Samsung, Not Competing On Cool

Tim-Burton-AAdvertising mavens were all over every painfully banal TV spot on this year's Super Bowl, but most of them seem to miss Samsung’s enormous presence at Sunday's Oscar telecast. In an episodic sequence of  commercials throughout the awards show, the leading handset maker developed fully a tale it has been teasing for weeks in TV spots.

The ads wove a tale of its mobile phones at work in a fictitious mobile game developer office. Various threads, mini-crises and less-clever-than-they-think 20-something banter is iterated through the series, which brings us inside the development of the “Unicorn Apocalypse” game. The sequence culminated toward the end of the awards with a spot featuring a Tim Burton cameo where the wizard of film weirdness even finds these developers’ imagination a bit creepy and out there.

In an interview with Bloomberg West, Samsung’s creative agency for the series 72andSunny admits that Samsung is not trying to go head to head with main rival Apple over which brand is hipper. “Cool is never something we go for,” says Creative Director Jason Norcross, in an interview with Bloomberg West's Jon Erlichman. “We just try to show the benefit and to really respond in an honest way.”

For the past year Samsung had been needling Apple by turning hipness into slavishness, depicting iPhone fans as blindly loyal to a brand that really appealed more to their parents. “One of the big competitors was really owning the mobile market,” Norcross reflects. “Samsung wanted to make a big splash. We tried to take advantage of all the momentum around the competition. It is a choice of a new generation. Samsung is the flag bearer of Android Nation.”

Whatever Samsung is doing seems to be working. According to IDC’s latest market share statistics, Samsung surpassed Apple as the largest producer of smart connected devices in the world, including phones, tablets and laptops. It shipped 250 million such devices in 2012 for a 20.8% market share compared to Apple, which has fallen to second place with 18.2%.

And according to one of the originators of the great Apple “Think Different” campaign of the 1990s, Samsung is eating Apple’s, well, apple, when it comes to messaging. Ken Segall writes at his blog: “The big surprise is that Samsung’s message has proven to be tremendously potent. The company continues to bash away at Apple, delivering ads that are well produced, well written and seem to be striking a nerve.” Samsung is buying media like crazy and developing custom ads while Apple reruns its same campaigns, he complains.

I have to say that I am not a big fan of the Samsung ad series. They are memorable only because of their frequency or that weird washed out visual style, but certainly not because of their humor. They are pretty good on product attributes, but it is not as if these guys are hitting it out of the park in establishing a real brand. They resemble much of the current crop of situation comedy, too self-conscious and stagey. Like Cooger Town, Suburgatory and Happy Endings (and countless others I try to forget), I find it hard to believe in the story line or messaging in the Samsung ads because I don’t really find the characters and situations especially believable.

But the ads have storylines and tonnage, while Apple agency TBWA\Chiat is pretty much making the same commercial for the iPad Mini that it made for the iPhone in 2007. Showing cool form and function is fine, but the age of gadget wizardry is fading. Five years into the app revolution that Apple started, ease of use and cool design are the table stakes. What’s next?

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