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Feb 13

Apple battling where it used to crush

No one denies that Apple has been more successful than any other technology company on earth.

How that happened shouldn’t be a matter of debate, but we can always count on human nature to muddy the waters. Some Apple detractors put forth the theory that it’s not the technology; it’s all in the marketing.

Reasonably intelligent people can’t possibly believe that. However, there is one bit of truth to it. That is, Apple has always been amazingly good at marketing. It’s been the gold standard in marketing as long as most of us can remember.

No matter what brand I’m working with, technology or otherwise, it’s astounding how many times I hear marketing people cite the Apple example to make a point. Apple’s advertising history is as famous as its products.

But something’s changed.

While you can still argue that Macs and i-devices have a ton of appeal, you can’t argue that Apple is still untouchable when it comes to advertising.

The fact is, it is being touched — often and effectively — by none other than Samsung.

Samsung has made remarkable inroads in a very short time, for two big reasons.

First, it is spending a fortune to run its ads. According to this report, Samsung spends more than Apple, more than HP and Dell, and even more than Coca-Cola to get its message out. In marketing, as in political advertising, the bigger the budget, the bigger the chance of success. Assuming, of course, that the message is a potent one.

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.

In contrast to Apple, which has been sticking to its product-based ads, Samsung has been scoring points with its people-based ads — most of which play off some growing negative perceptions about Apple.

Apple has been the master of buzz creation going all the way back to the first iMac. It just isn’t buzzing quite like it used to. Momentum has been lost. Not all of that is Apple’s fault, but some of it certainly is.

Samsung invested in a two-minute Super Bowl ad; Apple chose to remain silent. Samsung created a new story for the Oscars, tapping the eccentric Tim Burton; Apple ran only a variation of its more traditional product-centric campaign.

The last time Apple tried to stir things up was when it unveiled a brand-new campaign during the summer Olympics. And you know how that turned out.

On this first day after the Oscars, there’s some buzz out there about the ads. But for the first time ever, Apple is struggling to get its share. Samsung continues to gain momentum, thanks to its double-barreled approach of creativity and big spending.

I imagine Apple is feeling a bit like Obama after his first debate with Romney. It deeply believes in its ideas; it just needs to express them more forcefully.

There are too many smart people at Apple and Chiat to take this lying down. I expect to see Apple do exactly what Obama did. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and it’s time to recalibrate.

Later this week, I’ll take a closer look at Samsung’s latest ads vs. Apple’s.

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181 comments

  1. Apple is right about making product based ads as they have often the first move advantage as they innovate before the others and communicate a benefit no other company did it before. For that same reason Samsung is often making people based ads as they don’t have anything to explain about product as they copy it.

  2. I hope Apple doesn’t follow Obama’s lead. Obama has simply sold out his principles and taken the safe road.

  3. Marc Schipperheyn

    That is just ridiculous fanboy banter. You are aware that many of the critical components of the first and several following iphones and ipads such as the screen and processor were produced by Samsung? The real R&D of Apple was in the form factor, the user interaction and in the operating system, not in the hardware. That was mostly Samsung. Probably why they try to sue everyone into the ground that has a corner on their product with a similar radius to the iPhone.

  4. I’m in advertising, the first rule any advertiser should know is “advertising can’t make a bad product good”. The fact of the matter is, Samsung’s advertising is essentially pointing a very expensive gun at their foot. I know tons of people who either have an iphone or a galaxy. The differance is i don’t know a single person who is IN LOVE with their galaxy. In fact, most Galaxy users I know… hate it. My opionion, Samsung should fix their product first, then spend on getting people to try it.

  5. Apple still has the magic. Apple sells magic across all its platforms. Apple advertising IS Magic. There is no magic to Samsung advertising. Talking heads, sitting braggets and dancing groups are best left to banal simplicity, which is a good reason why Samsung might want to stick to marketing and promoting its kitchen appliances and washing machines.

  6. Thanks for sharing your valuable thoughts in your book & blog.
    Do you think the reason Apple hasn’t created a cool campaign yet is because there is no target to “poke fun of”? Back when Mac vs PC, Apple was the underdog, poking fun at PC’s flaws. The 1984 super bowl ad, Apple attacked IBM, the big guy in the industry. Samsung’s current Apple attacks is similar to those 2 campaign in the sense that there is a #1 to make fun of. However, if Apple starts to attack Samsung, than it would mean Apple is letting the world know that they approve Samsung as their biggest enemy. For sure Apple wouldn’t do that. What if Apple creates a campaign for iOS vs Android? Marketshare wise, Android is #1 so there is a target (Apple can act like the underdog). I see that there are a lot of things Apple could make Android look vulnerable in the ad campaign. Ideas from quality of apps to security, as well as find my friends app, messaging and syncing across devices.. (while poking fun at Android for the lack of the feature), later when fingerprint tech arrives on the 5S, then ads on more security to differentiate itself.

  7. You’re absolutely right that the #1 company can’t really make fun of the “little guy.” Microsoft tried it with their “I’m a PC” campaign, attempting to counteract the success of Apple’s Mac vs. PC campaign. I’vde never seen something like that work very well.

    Though iPhone is not #1 in market share, it’s still a bit hard to imagine it doing an iOS vs. Android campaign. At this moment, it would seem defensive. But who knows, maybe one day in the future Android phones will be ubiquitous, much as PCs were when Apple started making fun of them. In that scenario, such a campaign might be an interesting way to go. Till then, I think Apple will continue to sell its strengths — being competitive without naming names.

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