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.