Editorial

Would you mind being more original, Samsung?

It’s no secret Samsung and Apple are not getting along too well at the moment. In fact, it might be one of the least well hidden disputes of 2011. By the looks of things it seems to be a trend continuing into 2012; I have to ask why.

I don’t consider myself a fanboy to any brand. My family have had plenty of Samsung phones over the years, my own phone (the Galaxy Ace), is just another phone in the line. I do think, though, that Samsung have picked a fight they’re not going to win by choosing Apple as their target. Like I said, I consider myself impartial on the topic of companies. Brand loyalty is something I can understand but do not follow too closely. If I can get a better product at a similar price I see no reason to shoot yourself in the foot. In fact, before I bought the Galaxy Ace I now own, I was considering an HTC Wildfire or an iPhone 3GS.

I understand there are people who are fanatically devoted to their company of choice; while I don’t understand why, I won’t argue against their views. Samsung’s advertising has slowly become more antagonistic towards Apple, and the patent war isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. At the end of the day, competition is good for the consumer, but there is a limit to competition. At some point people are going to be turned away from the competitors for their obsession with beating each other. That's when competition becomes bad for business.

Samsung’s advertising is a good example of this. They clearly are competing against Apple, and the majority of phone manufacturers are competing against each other. The difference is that other phone manufacturers don’t make it so clear they want to fight against Apple. Whether you like or loathe Apple they have done a lot to the world of mobile phones since the original release of the iPhone. The iPhone has been immensely successful and that cannot be denied, even among Android fans. It has done a lot to change the world of phones, and everyone wants a piece of the touch-screen pie.

Now's the chance to prove it, Samsung.

I’m not going to get into the whole design debate which exists between Samsung and Apple in particular, for one reason in particular. That reason? I honestly couldn’t care less if their phones look similar. Sure, a ‘Shenzhen Special’ (a term I rather enjoyed from Joseph Finder's novel Buried Secrets, and am now shamelessly borrowing) is an exception to that rule, since it deliberately tries to be as close to the original design as possible to cheat people out of their money.

If you’re looking to buy a phone you will do your research and you will know what you want, so if you’re buying from a reputable seller you won’t be ripped off. If you’re trying to buy a cheap iPhone from Dodgy Dave down the road, you’re taking your own risk, so don’t be surprised if it runs Windows Mobile 6.5.

Phone design must be functional, and evidently, the common form factor shared by Apple and Samsung is functional. If it wasn’t it wouldn’t appeal, but I’m not going to argue about design. It all goes a long way in making a popular device. My main problem doesn’t lie with the design, with the silly patent wars, or the obsession with one-upping each other – but it does lie with the marketing. Specifically, Samsung’s marketing. Samsung does a lot of things right in the technology industry, but their advertising could do with an upgrade. Most of their current approaches seem to ape their rivals.

Two of the worst examples of Samsung’s advertising, in my own opinion, are fairly recent. I’m speaking about the concept of being ‘Samsunged’, and the ‘Smoked by not-quite Windows Phone’ campaigns. I am assuming a lot of the direction taken in advertising is coming down to the shareholders, since I don’t want to think Samsung’s advertising agencies are as uninspired as waiting for a competitor to make a move before following.

Advertising isn’t hard. You find something which is a big spectacle, and then you make use of it. For example, the Super Bowl in America is a golden opportunity. Samsung even realised this... then decided to make their advert slot a jibe at Apple fans. There are a literally infinite number of possibilities, and this was apparently their best. I’m not a fan of marketing buzzwords in general, but it seems to be a popular method of advertising. Even Apple have succumbed to creating the word ‘resolutionary’, so presumably there's something to it. I still think it's the stupidest method of advertising possible, but all the same, I'll overlook it.

I can think of at least three different openings in the world of advertising which aren’t occupied, and could easily allow Samsung to slot in and make a creative mark. How hard would it be, honestly, to get some celebrities to speak highly of your devices? It might be costly, but you'd probably offset the costs. Marketing a phone to teenage girls suddenly becomes a whole lot easier if Lady Gaga approves of it. There are plenty of celebrities out there, and Samsung could choose even a handful to help advertise their flagship phone. Speaking of their flagship, I’m not sure whether it’s the Galaxy Note, Nexus, or SII. It might be all three.

Running through my head, it would not be at all difficult to find celebrities or musicians who appeal to an audience. It really does seem to be as easy as looking through the music charts and Twitter trends for a name. In the UK, you could have One Direction, JLS, or another band with an almost cultish following promoting your devices. Thousands of sales made in about a week with one campaign. You could have a Justin Bieber promotion anywhere in the world, and it would also sell.  I’m not denying it would be costly, but since Apple haven’t done this it would probably cost less than conceding another lawsuit when they inevitably get riled up again.

My second idea is to sponsor sporting events, and do it properly this time. The phone advertised at the Super Bowl, the Galaxy Note, couldn’t have been advertised in a worse manner. I’m not a sporting person, but I know soccer has a massive following, so why not capitalise on that? A Samsung logo here and there around the pitch as well as on a uniform would work wonders on convincing sports fans they need a Samsung phone.

If they really wanted they could probably strike up a deal in NASCAR, Formula 1, or any other automotive racing league, and sell to a more dedicated bunch of petrolheads. Continuing on with my first idea, how hard would it be to get a few people from your sponsor to speak? If Sebastian Vettel said to buy a Galaxy SII, someone would buy a Galaxy SII. Jimmie Johnson advises you get a Galaxy Nexus? There’ll be a Nexus sold. Celebrities are a great tool for marketing; after all, they're marketed themselves.

While I'm on the subject of sports, Samsung proved valuable in getting the 2018 Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. I'll guess there will be plenty of Samsung advertising at that, but why wait? It is one event and it isn't going to be held until just under six years time. Now is the time to get marketing. Don't wait six years because the entertainment market could have changed then. It's better a company begins immediately than sits complacently.

The third idea of my trilogy is some more human marketing. Case in point: did you ever know Samsung make cars? Since 1994 they’ve been in a 20-80% partnership with Renault, making cars for sale in the South Korean market specifically. A company begins to sacrifice identity when it forgets its market. The solution to that is to actually give a company an identity. This is definitely the most risky of my three suggestions, since Saab tried to do the same thing by comparing their cars to their military aircraft. Nobody bought a 9-3 because it could shoot down aircraft in a dogfight. It can backfire, but hasn't attacking Apple?

This ad actually aired in the late 1980s. It's cool but how does it actually sell the car?

If they could appeal then they could do a lot more. Consumer oriented marketing isn’t a new thing, and I know Microsoft trademarked the term ‘People Powered Stories’, so the idea has been floating around for a while. To my knowledge though, Samsung could be the first to actually show employees and consumers talking about the company. An advert showing a worker in a plant assembling a phone could do the trick. Have the worker explaining what he likes about Samsung and give it a whole, feel-good atmosphere with some happy music in the background. As the Kony 2012 campaign shows, you can really impress anything upon people if it's done well.

Have a customer who is a music lover talking about why he loves his phone for its camera, and give it some music. It really doesn't seem too hard to do. In fact, you could have the Samsung CEO appearing in an advert. Everyone knows Steve Ballmer and Tim Cook as the two faces of the new breed over at Microsoft and Apple, but could you name Samsung's CEO? The company has grown a little bit faceless. I actually had to check online, and it seems the CEO is Lee Kun-hee.

Considering he was able to turn his company from a low-quality electronics manufacturer to a worldwide company with the quote, "Change everything except your wife and kids", seeing him recounting the change to a top-class company with pride in a 45-second advertising slot would give the company a little more identity. The quote has a bit of humor to it, and that could be instrumental.

The quote proves that Kun-hee has been able to reinvent his company in the past, revitalising everything about it. If he could do it in the past and change everything it should not be hard for him to do it again, changing only the advertising. Samsung is in an excellent position in terms of hardware. All they need to do is get into such a good position in terms of advertising and doors will open.

I’m not saying my ideas are feasible, but to continue with the derivative advertising campaigns isn’t going to help the company any. As I said at the beginning of this article I am no fanboy, but I like to see a company standing on its own two feet. Samsung are resting on their laurels, waiting for opportunities to feed off their competitors, and I don’t think it works. It might give the impression of a company who keep an eye on their competitors, but die-hard fans of Apple would argue they’re doing more than keeping an eye on their competitors and the trail they’re following.

Samsung’s fixation on fighting Apple isn’t going to work. It might work now but their phone line-up is downright confusing. They released the Samsung Galaxy Pocket just recently and it’s little more than a budget Android device bearing plenty of similarities to the older Galaxy Europa. Less is more in many places: the flood of models isn’t helping, nor is the advertising campaign which boldly goes where everyone has been before.

Remind me again, are you a Galaxy Pocket or a Europa?

Originality is key in succeeding. If you can’t make it entirely original at least differentiate yourself a bit. There’s nothing original about the Europa hardware or the Pocket which it has stemmed, nor is there anything original about taking an original idea from another company and making it into your own. Samsung do a lot of things right, but the advertising really cripples any and all existing potential.

Perhaps the worst thing is that Samsung have shown themselves to be capable of so much more than they're currently doing. They have the Galaxy Beam, the Galaxy Nexus, the Galaxy SII, the Galaxy Note, and a handful of tablets. Flooding the market doesn't help supply and demand as a concept. You have the supply, but where's the demand? Nobody asked for the Galaxy Ace to be replaced by the Galaxy Ace+ less than a year later. Nobody bought a Europa and thought to themselves, "You know? I really must buy a phone with similar hardware two years down the line".

William Bernbach, a man who knew a lot more about advertising than I ever will (he led the VW Beetle advertising campaign in the 1960s), said this: “Advertising doesn't create a product advantage. It can only convey it”. Samsung would be wise to remember this when they try to copy and convey in the future. If you advertise your product as having an advantage (properly this time, guys), then you will have an advantage.

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