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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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