Samsung Vs. Apple: Losing My Religion

by , Dec 6, 2012, 5:23 PM
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I’ll admit to feeling a bit sacrilegious as I write this, given that I am still a devoted member of the cult of Cupertino. But fair is fair: I nominate Samsung to be Best Tech Advertiser of 2012 (image division) for “The next best thing is already here,” its Galaxy S III campaign.

With this witty work from 72andSunny in Los Angeles, Samsung sweeps the category of “Best Brand Usurper.” Indeed, the spots provide a devilishly clever reality check and knowingly bring up subtle distinctions in handsets. But mostly, the South Korean company had the nerve to hit Apple where it hurts by parodying its fervent followers (aka fanboys) who, on the High Holidays of new releases, blindly assemble outside the temples (um, stores) for proper product worship (and purchase.)

Actually, Samsung’s first spot that dared to question the hype surrounding Ultraorthodox Apple-ism broke just about a year ago, in late 2011. It showed throngs of faux-hipsters gathered in line outside retail outlets all over the country. While they were waiting (“only 9 hours to go!”) other civilians were moving around freely in the world, happily engaged with their Samsung Galaxies. One guy ogles the Galaxy model sheepishly from behind his barricade, and speaks for many when he says, “I could never get a Samsung. I’m creative.”

That’s a brave line to put into a Samsung spot. The response nails him and the economy he rode in on: “Dude, you’re a barista,” his friend deadpans.

The truth hurts. It left me muttering angrily. But consider how much the zeitgeist had changed by this September, when the second spot hit, promoting the GS III and directed at the “coming soon” iPhone 5 (which was a bit of a “meh,” it turns out.) While showcasing GS III features that iPhones don’t have (like file-sharing), the spot again showed lines of expectant white-ear-podded drones standing and waiting. This time the joke is that the Samsung guy is there with the group only to hold a spot for his embarrassingly khaki-clad, coffee-carrying, annoyingly self-satisfied Boomer parents. Yikes. What a blow for me in the “if the sensible shoe fits” department.

The spot was so right for so many reasons, though, that it immediately grabbed the No. 1 place on Unruly’s viral video (of any kind) list, followed only by the trailer for the new Hobbit movie.

Of course, merely parodying the big guy (even if it’s never been done before) is not what sustains a campaign. And granted, part of the ads’ power comes from the growth and acceptance of the Android operating system in general, as the smartphone category explodes and challengers (and copiers) proliferate. That was the point of Apple’s billion-dollar patent suit with Samsung, which is apparently going back to court.

At the same time, however, Apple has left itself surprisingly open for parody. The irony in showing iPhone owners as sheep is pretty rich, given that the “think different” company has always prided itself on being the cooler-than-thou outsider, the “square peg in the round hole.” 

In fact, Apple followed up on its iconic 1984 Super Bowl commercial, introducing the Mac, with a spot in 1985 showing blindfolded lemmings (aka everybody else) falling into the sea.

Apple hasn’t shied away from giving its own pounding to the competition, either: you remember the hilarious campaign embodying the Mac and PC by, respectively, a hipster and a dweeb.

But speaking of dweebs, the company made a rare (but hugely embarrassing) advertising misstep this past summer during the broadcast of the London Olympics. Three different TV spots showed an actor playing one of the company’s patented, blue-T-shirted “geniuses” being released into the wild.

Each spot landed with a thud. Indeed, the Apple store itself, Steve Jobs’ inspiration, was probably the best ad ever for the brand. Anyone who enters and climbs those clear steps can ascend into heaven, attaining holiness by consulting with the geniuses up there, where the air is thinner.

Taken out of that elevated place, however, the genius is just another annoying 20something, a cross between the Dell Dude and a Best Buy elf.  In the case of the guy on the plane, he’s like a rat running around, solving basic problems for the other idiot flyers. (“21 F is working on a keynote!” the flight attendant tells him.) The tone is totally off: I’m not sure what universe these ads would work in.

The situation in the second one, in which “Mr. Green” comes to the genius’ door at 4 a.m. (the genius is still wearing his blue T-shirt and company ID around his neck in his sleep)  is full of cliches, the worst being the revival of the dunderhead dad from the 1950s who doesn’t know anything about birthin’ babies.

If these were supposed to democratize the brand, they not only fell flat, but they demonstrated the sensitivity of Mitt Romney talking about the 3%. Plus, wasn’t the whole point of the Mac that it plugs and plays, and that you don’t need to be a genius to use it?

Any brand with the revenue of a superpower will have growing pains, of course. But the fact that Apple’s image could be considered cheesy and open to ridicule so soon after Steve Jobs’ death actually shocks me. I had no doubt that the company would maintain its edge and fan base in the wake of Jobs’ untimely passing.

No one need cry for Apple, obviously. Meanwhile, Samsung faces a lot of competition. But at a time when few think that any single ad (or even campaign) can have a huge impact anymore,  Samsung’s “The Next Big Thing”  just did. It sure made a believer out of me.

15 comments on "Samsung Vs. Apple: Losing My Religion".

  1. Charlene Jaszewski from The Content Fix
    commented on: December 6, 2012 at 6:18 p.m.
    After years of being in the Apple cult (even back before it was cool) and an iPhone owner from the beginning, about a month ago, I wandered into a Best Buy and bought myself a Samsung Galaxy S 3. I must say I feel cool again. Apple has lost it.
  2. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: December 6, 2012 at 6:24 p.m.
    Reverse cool! Gotta love it.
  3. Arthur Greenwald from Greenwald Media
    commented on: December 6, 2012 at 6:30 p.m.
    Samsung's Galaxy S III campaign is very clever and the product itself is very good. But I wonder how effective it really is. The total number of people, fanboys or otherwise, who actually stand in line for Apple products represents less than 1/20th of 1 percent of sales. In surveys, the vast majority believe they're paying a premium for innovation, reliability, ease of use, plus excellent tech support.
  4. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: December 6, 2012 at 6:45 p.m.
    You're right, Arthur. There will always be an enormous market and appetite for Apple (the stock went up today with news that they will manufacture a line of Macs here.) Just surprising to see how effective a challenger can be.
  5. Catherine Wachs from Right Brain
    commented on: December 6, 2012 at 6:48 p.m.
    You read my mind. Samsung's positioning is not only brilliant, it's ubiquitous. I especially like the airport ads that let only Galaxy owners to download songs by popular artists through the ad (using some kind of NFC chip). Cool is something others have and you want.
  6. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: December 6, 2012 at 6:54 p.m.
    Catherine-- True! I also raised an eyebrow to the ad that shows kids sharing a video with Daddy by touching phones. Then his wife says she made one too-- and not to watch it on the plane.
  7. Mark Paul from Mark Paul
    commented on: December 6, 2012 at 11:04 p.m.
    Apple's cool factor is primarily based on usability, industrial design is important but secondary. A few more blunders like the maps app and Apple may find itself in a deep slide. Interesting casting choice for the boomer dad in the Samsung spot: that guy's a dead ringer for Walt Mossberg, the WSJ tech writer. First viewing I thought it was him, but it can't be. Random factoid: When Sculley was still Pepsi president he gave a talk at an Ad Age conference about how segmentation was affecting all kinds of products, and how some consumers would splurge on some product categories (way beyond their income level) while skimping or avoiding other product purchases. As an illustration, he put up a slide of a Bang & Olufsen ad, showing the stereo in a barely furnished living room. There's a pic of Jobs in Jacobson's bio that's nearly identical: Steve sitting on the bare floor surrounded by an elaborate hi-fi rig.
  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: December 6, 2012 at 11:38 p.m.
    yes, Mark! Good point about the maps. The thing about Jobs and his empty room is that he could never find furniture perfect enough for his design aesthetic.
  9. Thom Kennon from BrabbleTV.Com
    commented on: December 7, 2012 at 5:01 a.m.
    Right on Barbara! Slowly, inevitably, the world joins me on the "anything-but-Apple-just-cuz-it's-Apple" side of the personal technology universe. A battle for advertising cred is as good a conversion path as any I can muster. I'll tell you this, it's been lonely holding spaces over here for all my many khaki-clad sensible shoe wearing lemming 'rents... I feel so much better. Now if we can only stop otherwise perfectly intelligent people from flocking blind reverently into those horrid little ubiquitous burnt coffee shops. Thom Kennon | @tkennon | +Thom Kennon
  10. Lorenzo a. Morales from Massive Company
    commented on: December 7, 2012 at 10:34 a.m.
    Thank you Barbara for reminding me of the Olympics ads that left me scratching my head. Who at Apple let the Ad guys run these? As for Samsung.... just like my friends say; "Zap!" - Take that Apple. Gotta love Apple for the products but Samsung has stung them this time on air.
  11. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: December 7, 2012 at 11:43 a.m.
    thanks, Thom and Lorenzo! I think people are reacting against Apple's perceived arrogance and authoritarianism. (and Thom--S-bucks next?) Which is incredibly ironic considering it's the company that put itself on the map by killing Big Brother. Apple is already trying to turn it around by announcing the new US manufacturing center. But another issue is dealing with an aging population of former hipsters. Damn it!
  12. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting
    commented on: December 7, 2012 at 4:21 p.m.
    Even as a viewer of only about 5 hours of TV each week I felt bombarded by the Samsung commercials. And they paid off because when my Blackberry died, after I splashed my martini on it, I marched to the Verizon store with the Galaxy Explorer III in mind.
  13. Feminista Fan from The Past, Present and Future
    commented on: December 7, 2012 at 6:24 p.m.
    I agree but see one problem with the campaign, they seem to insult every consumer cohort. Young, middle aged, urban, suburban.
  14. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: December 11, 2012 at 5:24 p.m.
    Further proof: Original Apple FanBoy Guy Kawasaki switched to an Android phone a year ago and has not switched back.
  15. Doc Searls from The Searls Group
    commented on: January 3, 2013 at 6:49 p.m.
    Forget the marketing for a minute. Just look at the products and what those are about. The iPhone 5 is worse than meh. It's a stretched iPhone 4s, which was an iPhone 4 with sprinkles. Worse, it arrived with a severely crippled Maps app, which made the 5 a bad deal for countless actual and potential customers. The Maps catastrophe also spoke of much deeper problems for Apple. Stand back from the calendar and you'll see Apple's foot has been off the gas ever since Steve died. The iPad 3 has a great screen and that's it. The iPad Mini filled a hole that had always been there. Everything else Apple does with hardware is incremental at best. Its retailing and customer service is superb, however, and a huge market advantage. But can that advantage hold while Apple's mobile products fall farther and farther behind the growing number of curves paved by Android devices? Android is an open platform for an open marketplace. It was designed to keep opening that marketplace. This was an absolutely brilliant market (and not just marketing) hack by Google. There is no limit to what can be done with mobile in the Android marketplace, because no company controls it — not even Google. This is why Samsung's Galaxies, or something like them, were inevitable from the beginning. As a builder and maintainer of closed gardens, Apple is the best there ever was. But closed gardening is a feudal system, and it can't evolve fast enough in a fully networked and open world. Google knew that in the first place, which is why they, and not just Samsung, deserve a big high-five for the success of the Galaxies and countless future devices and services.

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