Samsung’s anti-Apple marketing: fuelling the flame wars

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The dictionary defines stratagem as: noun: a plan or scheme, especially one used to outwit an opponent or achieve an end: a series of devious stratagems.• [ mass noun ] archaic skill in devising plans or schemes; cunning.

What Samsung has set out to do since the launch of Samsung Galaxy S3 is just that: a series of plans to outwit their main opponent in the mobile phone business – Apple. On the face of it, it is a classic marketing ploy to diss competition. It is usually done to achieve two things (a) create dissonance among competing brand users, so that they are compelled to ‘switch’ (b) make the users of own brand feel good about their choice, so that the brand’s equity among its own users is strengthened.

Comparative advertising

There are several ways of executing comparative advertising, keeping in line with the brand’s stature, personality and tone of voice. It could be done in a tongue-in-cheek manner or in a feisty, combative way or in a factual, business-like manner appealing to the rational side of the potential consumer. A common aspect of such combative activity is to portray the leading brand as the choice of an ‘older generation’ hoping to make it uncool. A lot of the advertising pertaining to such activity is laced with humour.

The brand initiating such an activity needs to assess the likely negative fallout too.  If an inconsequential player with poor ‘quality’ associations tries to rubbish a well-established, well-accepted brand or tries to equate itself with a premium quality player it may backfire. Comparative advertising has been around for decades  with varying degrees of success. In 1962, Hertz was the undisputed market leader in the car rental business. Bill Bernbach turned their market dominance into a weakness by appealing to the consumer’s emotions towards an underdog, Avis, who deserves more. There are several examples which fit any of the above scenarios:

– During the late ’80s (or maybe it was the early ’90s), HCL Photocopiers took on Modi Xerox photocopiers, the category leader and generic brand with a series of print ads which listed the superior features of HCL in comparison with Modi Xerox. The ads named competition directly and took a ‘factual’ approach (read about it here). Incidentally, the HCL ads were written by @maheshmurthy, a well-known Android & Samsung fan and Apple-hater (or ‘baiter’). A comparative list of features works well in the case of business investments like photocopiers (remember it was more than 20 years ago).

– And then there are the soft drink wars fought in several countries, the most famous being the taste challenge in the US between Pepsi & Coke. Other brands like Thums Up too have had their share of poking fun of competing brands like Pepsi. Such wars keep the excitement going in this ‘parity’ category.

– The ‘Get a Mac’ campaign which won a Grand Effie for Advertising Effectiveness in 2007 poked fun tangentially at the Windows user by showing specific features of the Mac in a positive way and corresponding Windows features in poor light. The timing of the campaign was right for Mac as the Vista launch was beset with problems. Another aspect in favour of Apple was that the level of ‘devotion’ to the Mac platform was much higher compared to the Windows platform – which was ubiquitous alright but used more as a need rather than as a willing choice. Not all of Apple’s comparative efforts have been successful. Their ad, titled ‘Lemmings’ which showed IBM users in poor light was a flop.

There are others too: Hindu taking on The Times of India in Chennai, the Jet Airways vs Kingfisher efforts, Pantene vs. Dove and so on. Such efforts fail to take off if the comabtive brand doesn’t live up to its claim at all – like how Motorola announced their tablet brand dissing both the iPad and the Galaxy Tab.

Samsung and its ploy

The Samsung marketing effort against Apple started with the launch of Galaxy S2 with ads ridiculing its lack of certain features and then moved on to ridiculing Apple fans, derisively labeled iSheep. Without doubt, Android and Samsung are in a position of strength: Android platform is a market leader in volumes, loved by many and is seen as a brand that finally offered choice to consumers. Samsung too is revered by many and both has very strong equity. But there is a stratagem behind the move to continuously ridicule Apple, its products and its fans. The weapon of choice is the list of ‘superior’ features of the high end Samung phones. For the average consumer, this, the list of features is manna from heaven as it conveys superior product and hence, better value for money. Apple’s product philosophy has never been one of ‘lets cram it with all the features you can imagine’. It’s been about, rightly or wrongly,  saying ‘no’ to what they believe are unimportant. In tech products, electronic devices, durables and automobiles there can be many ways of sewing up a product strategy. The Apple Way (controlling every aspect of product & marketing from software to hardware to communication) to the Android Way are chalk and cheese – both have their benefits, drawbacks, believers and non-believers. As MacObserver said:

The Android ecosystem is more open, not centrally organized or controlled, and it doesn’t try to lock you into a system owned and controlled by one company.

Apple’s iOS ecosystem is much more integrated, curated, and refined. The company’s products work well in a way that no other company can boast because Apple controls the hardware, the software, and the ecosystem itself. That combines to offer what we think is the best experience.

The Android-Samsung approach of lists is about specifics (30% larger screen, 1.2GHZ processor etc.) whereas the Apple differentiator is relatively nebulous, ‘experience’. More on this topic in a separate blog post. But hammering specifics down the throat of consumers consistently is has got legs – as it can be milked for a long time to come, across products. And repeated again and again and again. If rumours are to be believed Samsung is likely to take phone screen size to the next level with a 5-inch screen in the S4. Sigh.

Fuelling the fire

I had said in a tweet, ‘Difference between Apple fans and Android fans: former stems from love for the company philosophy, products. Latter from Apple hatred.’ It was a generalisation alright and it evoked typically polarising reactions. In comparison to the Mac vs. Windows wars, the difference now is that the Android fan is a lot more aggressive, especially against Apple. It reminds of what Kiran Khalap, founder of Chlorophyll called ‘Pakistan Positioning‘ in a different context: Pakistan Positioning’. “When you ask Pakistan, ‘Who are you?’ they say ‘We are not India’. In a way, what Samsung has set out to do is just that.

The anti-Apple ads of Samsung, be it the print ad or the TV spot do two things, according to me: (a) warm the cockles of the Android fan and makes him or her glad that Apple is being beaten with a stick (b) provide content that can travel across platforms, channels and provide more ammunition for flame wars.

The ads get shared across Social Media networks, evoke responses for sure, as nothing is more ‘link bait worthy’ than trashing Apple and its products in the web. So when Facebook fans share the Samsung ads or the spec comparison tables it gives them ammunition to fire against Apple fans. To that extent the Samsung strategy is effective. But will it really move the Apple fans to switch? I am not sure if that’s even the objective. The settled Apple fan who has experienced its products over the years is unlikely to be swayed. There could be a bunch of fence sitters who could be swayed by this constant bombardment. I know of a few hitherto ‘diehard’ Android fans who are willing to switch to Nokia Lumia thanks to the mere looks of the upcoming Windows 8 phone (whose release date is not announced yet).

The only response to ‘Apple baiting’ from Samsung is to ignore them. That is especially true of Mac forums and Apple fans. Responding with their versions of an ‘Apple list of features’ will only play right into the hands of Samsung. The anti-Apple marketing effort, is unlikely to get Apple users to switch. The initial response to iPhone 5, despite being labelled as ‘disappointing’ by self-proclaimed tech pundits has been positive to put it mildly. Things may change of course, if Apple screws up big time and makes Apple fans unhappy. Talking of which, Maps in iOS6 comes to mind. The product is simply put, unusable, especially in India. It is a huge disappointment for Apple fans and as Mashable said:

Maps takes all the trust Apple has built up among its users over the years — trust that its products just work — and squanders nearly all of it in one go.

Sure, Maps looks great. Some of the maps of US cities and  landmarks in Europe look gorgeous and useful. But the snafu fuelled on social media by parody accounts on Twitter again strengthens the belief of non-Apple users that Apple is all about ‘form over function’. The marketing challenge before Apple is a new one. Expectations from Apple were always high – no other company’s products are scrutinised, analysed, panned, forecasted like Apple’s – its the trouble with setting high standards. Now with strong competition which fuels the flame wars and hatred with content that becomes ammunition, Apple has a different kind of challenge ahead. It is unlikely to respond with its own marketing campaign to counter  the naysayers. It can only respond with products that stay true to the Apple experience. The 3-point manifesto for Apple propagated by Mike Markkula, should be a handy reference now. Who would’ve thought that Apple and Samsung would be uttered in the same breath, a few years ago? The Samsung ploy of offering high end products, inspired by Apple design, loading more features into it and providing ammunition to its fans against Apple is an unwelcome distraction for Apple.

 I am an Apple fan. But not a fanboy who blindly disses everything that’s not Apple. My love and respect for Apple products started with the Macintosh, a common device in ad agency creative departments many moons ago. I have used Powerbook G3, iMac, Powerbook G4, OS9, early versions of OSX, iPod, iPhones and the iPad. I have also used top of the line Blackberry, Nokia and Samsung – including an S2 and now an S3. I have had my share of disappointments with Apple products including hardware issue. So I am not a blind iSheep. With Apple, the pros always outweighed the cons. For me, the joy of using an Apple product is unmatched. Such ad tactics from its competitors matter little to me and millions of other Apple fans.

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