Samsung’s biggest marketing victory: its beyond market share

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Referring to the hype and global media attention for the launch of Samsung S4 in New York, Fortune magazine’s Apple 2.0 blog wrote, ‘Samsung’s event marketing makes Apple’s hype look tame‘. The general drift is that is captured in: ‘Samsung is going bigger and brasher, hiring the big halls and the dancers and mocking Apple — and itself — in TV ads loaded with attitude’. The aggressive nature of Samsung’s marketing, the breathless anticipation & speculation of what the S4 could be all about, the global attention through tech blogs and social media…all of it was largely Apple’s domain in the past. However, there is one key difference: Samsung is buying its way through the attention. It paid-for advertising budget is huge, not to mention the events, activation and on-ground promotions. Specifically on the S4 launch, the teaser ads, the tap-dancing flash mob in Times Square -all directly & deliberately promoted by Samsung makes it appear…um, er…less effortless compared to how Apple does it. Also, someone please tell Samsung that flash mobs are very day-before-yesterday.

Both the companies (in fact all major tech companies) indulge in PR and playing to the gallery with selective leaks, shrouds of secrecy and hype creation. With Apple, its is largely PR that drives the hype. In 2007, they too had a teaser ad for the iPhone – it was released just once during the Oscar’s. The six months after that event was purely media-driven PR, what is referred to as non-paid advertising.

Since then, Samsung has taken several leaves from the product & marketing books of Apple. Quite literally. For my money, they blatantly copied the first iPhone and then built their product strategy, subsequent innovations around it. Surely, Samsung’s strategy to mock Apple’s users played a role. Such ads with a competitive stance against a perceived leader are meant to create dissonance in the minds of the loyal users of the leader’s products. In my view, the ‘Next Big Thing’ ads and the PR around them first made the Samsung users feel good about their own brand and imbed them with an aggressive, middle-finger stance against Apple. I don’t think a large majority of loyal Apple users would have been swayed by those ads. However, the constant badgering & visibility (thanks to deep pockets for advertising), the regular release of large screened phone variants at various price points and Social Media have helped Samsung not only gain market share but create the perception among many that its products are much better than anything Apple can offer. The other day, I was at an Apple Premium Reseller outlet in Bangalore and witnessed an Apple fan (who has bought all the versions of iPhone, except the 5 apparently) grill the sales executive about why Apple products are over-priced and that he was considering a switch to other options which gave more. The sales guy tried explaining the benefits in terms of the aluminium body, the OS and the ecosystem but the customer didn’t seem too convinced.

Social Media, the myriad tech blogs and the ‘internet repost effect’ have a huge role to play in this. In our time-poor world people have the inclination to remember just the top-line sound bytes. The ‘Apple-does-not-own-rounded-corners’ is one such sound byte perpetrated by the Samsung machinery when the facts about the case were different. ‘Android is winning’ is another such which only reflects market share – a metric that is not a be-all & end-all for some companies. There are other  metrics which suggest a different story. People don’t have time to delve deep and are satisfied with just grabbing the headlines. The narrative and the drift can be manipulated by applying flawgic (a brilliant term coined by The Mac Advocate); and even venerable media brands show a bias. A brand’s deep advertising pockets help in such a situation.

While Samsung has definitely gained in market share & hype over the last 5 years, its biggest marketing victory is something else. It is in the fact that it is the only brand name (among many Android brands) that gets a mention along with Apple. Now readers and Samsung fans will get riled saying that Apple is no great shakes to be so revered. Fact is, no other brand (tech or otherwise) enjoyed the exclusivity and reverence that Apple enjoyed. To be perceived an equal (or superior, depending on who you ask) and spoken of in the same breadth as Apple almost always is the biggest marketing victory for Samsung in a relatively short time span.

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