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Samsung’s Identity Crisis

April 26, 2012

Earlier this week, a large black bus pulled up in front of a Sydney, Australia Apple store. Out of the bus poured black-clad protestors waving signs that read “WAKE UP.” The protestors stood outside the store, holding up their signs and chanting “wake up!” Who organized the protest and what it actually meant have caused some speculation on the Internet. Not unreasonably, tech website Mashable suggests that the protest was organized by Australian ad agency Tongue  for electronics giant Samsung, in anticipation of the May 3 launch of Samsung’s new Galaxy III smartphone.


Not content to carve out its own share of the smartphone market, Samsung has relentlessly attacked Apple in 2012. In January, Samsung ran a commercial during the Super Bowl that attacked Apple’s iPhone and its product culture. The commercial highlights the coolest feature of Samsung’s Galaxy Note phone. But something weird is going on. Instead of highlighting the fact that the iPhone does not have the same functions as the Galaxy Note, Samsung attacks Apple users. The 2012 ads demonstrate just how confused Samsung is. Is Samsung trying to convert Apple customers (if they are, they’re doing a bad job of it by insulting potential customers)? Is the Galaxy phone supposed to be an alternative to the iPhone for “everyone else?” The only thing we know for certain is that Samsung wants to be taken seriously.

Let’s step into my WABAC machine and travel back to the first few years of the past decade. Then, Apple had finally carved out a share of the computer market, having been brought back from the brink of bankruptcy by returned-CEO Steve Jobs. In 1997, Apple launched its “Think Different” campaign, one of the most successful ad campaigns of the last twenty years. The goal of that campaign was to articulate the Apple philosophy:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Apple Inc.

With this one campaign, Apple defined its brand and its customers. To this day, that quote above still defines how consumers view Apple the corporation, Apple products, Steve Jobs, and even Apple users.

From L to R: PC, Mac.

In 2002, Apple changed track. Having successfully established their brand and having carved out for itself a small share of the market, Apple turned its attention to its competitors. Apple launched a series of ads in which its products were favorably compared to PC products. These now-famous ads (Mac v. PC) did everything a negative ad should. It reinforced the Apple brand (simple, minimal, sleek) and set it against an image of its competitor (dull-witted, geeky, and a little chubby). The ads never skewed negative in tone, but their messages were impossible to ignore. Macs, these ads implied, were not just cooler than PCs, they were better. Did Apple target PC users? No. Apple was trying to convert PC users, not alienate them.

Flash forward to 2012. Apple is on pace to become the richest company in the world. It possesses what is arguably the most famous and well-defined brand in advertising. Samsung, a company with no brand image at all and only minimal name recognition with the average consumer, is trying to cut into Apple’s share of the market by attacking it. The Korean electronics giant would do well to follow the formula that Apple created.

Step 1: Define your brand. Who are you? What do you stand for? What does it say about someone who buys a Samsung product?

Step 2: Attack your competitor. Understand who or what you want to attack. Is it a product (the iPhone)? A company (Apple)? Or your potential customer (Apple users)? Do what Apple did. Contrast your product with your competitor’s. Make it about the product. If the Galaxy is really so much better than the iPhone, show us.

Step 3: Let your customers do your marketing for you. Hardly anyone waits in line to buy a Galaxy phone. Until people do, you will never compete with Apple.

Remember, you can’t skip Step 1, jump right to Step 2, and expect to sway consumers. The Galaxy is a great phone, but this current marketing plan will only alienate the people that Samsung is trying desperately to convert.

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