Mar 13

Apple vs. everyone: battle of the tablet ads

Whatever happened to the good old days, when iPad was the only choice in town?

Unfortunately for Apple, those days are now long gone. There’s no resting on past glories. For those comparing tablets today, it hardly matters who invented what. What’s important is what they see today — and it starts with the ads.

Let’s see how the ad competition is shaping up.

Apple has always spawned passionate reactions to its advertising, pro and con. But these days, it seems that the natives are restless.

For the most part, iPad ads have always worked like iPhone ads. They’ve been focused on the product and have demonstrated a wide range of apps. When iPad was crushing competitors in both marketshare and mindshare, there didn’t seem to be a downside to this.

But now there’s a question: is it enough anymore to say “iPad lets you do a lot of stuff”? As other tablets mature, what’s the shelf life for a message like this? (Alright, that’s two questions.)

Here’s what Apple’s competitors are doing, starting with Amazon.

The Kindle Fire HD, by most reports, isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. Looking at this ad, you can see that the message is a bit familiar. Basically, it says “Fire lets you do a lot of stuff.” Only at the end do we see Fire’s big advantage: it’s cheap. As in $199 cheap.

Of course Fire is missing certain important things, and that is why it’s so cheap — but all’s fair in love and marketing.

You’re up next, Google.

With Nexus 7, Google is eager to join the party. Or, I should say, they’re joining the chorus. Because the net takeaway from the Nexus commercial is also familiar: “Nexus lets you do a lot of stuff.” Imagine: you can check the weather, use a map, find a restaurant, translate a word and make a video call. These are all things we’ve lived with for years now.

On the positive side, Google plays up their strength here. They position the technology as connecting with our lives. Is that differentiation enough? You tell me.

And now Microsoft.

Damn, it’s hard to watch this. Surely a disruption in the space-time continuum caused Microsoft to reach back into the 70s, when a song-and-dance caused shoppers to pull out their wallets.

Give them credit for not just saying “it does a lot of stuff.” But latching onto the click as the big marketing idea has almost the opposite effect from the one they wish. It trivializes the technology they’re so proud of.

Last, there’s Samsung.

Samsung faced the same uphill battle all the others have faced. They were trying to get a slice of a market that was hugely dominated by Apple.

As discussed in a previous article, Samsung is doing what Apple had always been known for. They’re getting people to talk about their products.

That’s no easy feat when you start out with nothing. Unlike the others who tried in vain to claim the mantle of “chief challenger” to Apple, Samsung hit on an idea that resonated. It used humor to capitalize on the growing feeling that Apple has become too big and less innovative. Plus it put tons of cash behind its campaign.

When Apple took on Microsoft with its super-successful Mac vs. PC campaign, its goal wasn’t to replace Microsoft as the leader. It simply wanted to become part of the conversation. And this work got people talking about the Mac platform in places they weren’t talking about it before.

If you need proof that Samsung’s Apple-bashing humor draws a crowd, just look at the YouTube numbers. This anti-iPhone ad now has over 17 million views. Apple ads just don’t get those kinds of numbers these days.

Through its advertising, Samsung has succeeded in creating an umbrella personality for both its smartphone and tablet products. All of their ads now reinforce the same point (whether it’s true or not): Samsung is the company delivering innovation.

I hear all kinds of opinions about Samsung ads. Some think they’re stupid, or resent Samsung for ripping off Apple ideas. But these ads are doing what exactly what they are designed to do — they’re striking a nerve, and stoking the anti-Apple flames.

In Summary

Google, Amazon and Apple are all running commercials that play up the infinite things their devices let you do. Only problem is, “doing a lot of stuff” is now well-trod territory. That alone is not the message of an innovator.

What Apple does have going for it is that familiar tone of elegance and simplicity. However, this familiarity translates to some as boring, or simply more of the same. Which is not the personality of an innovator.

That’s an issue for a company that lives or dies by innovation — and it opens the door for marketing attacks. Remember, we’re talking about marketing here and not necessarily the technology reality.

When you look at all the ads together, it’s Samsung that has stepped out of the mold. (Microsoft stepped into a very old mold.) Samsung doesn’t focus so much on the devices; instead it creates a personality for them. Love or hate these ads, they’re not invisible. They’ve helped paint the picture of Samsung as Apple’s most dangerous competitor.

Historically, Apple has been pretty good at getting noticed when they face a far bigger competitor — as it demonstrated with the Mac vs. PC campaign, using humor to chip away at big, bad Microsoft.

With Samsung picking up even more buzz (note tomorrow’s unveiling of the Galaxy S IV smartphone), it will be interesting to see how and if Apple’s ads will evolve. Hard to imagine that it would ever directly address its competitor as Microsoft did with its pitiful “I’m a PC” campaign. But creativity can work in a thousand different ways.

As the technology playing field levels — in consumers’ eyes, that is — the spirit of the ads may well become the most important differentiator.

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  • I don’t know if you watch the HBO show Girls, Ken, but Microsoft’s dancing Surface ads give me the same awkward feeling everyone had when Marnie, a privileged white girl, sang Stronger by Kanye West at a fancy work party.

  • Roger Mercer

    People will continue believing that Samsung makes a better phone long after their Android phone crashes constantly and then breaks. Long after they see their friends still using their noncrashing, drop-resistant iPhones and iPads. Long after they see the iPhone guy get the finish first every time in a group of people with Androids playing a game, or just engaging in trivia. We have become a society that has far too few defenses against propaganda. Our young people, and even our news reporters, don’t know how to ask questions that can elicit the truth.

  • Hm

    Being a market leader is a tougher position in many ways to being the challenger. Samsung have a very clear target to bounce off and compare themselves to, much like Apple did with Microsoft some years back. Now that Apple are perceived as the Big Old Boys, Samsung gets to play the younger, cooler, challenging role, which is often a more appealing image to the younger generation in particular. Once you’re at the top, like Apple have been in many areas for years now, it’s tough to stay there, stay fresh and stay disruptive. Just ask Microsoft.

  • ksegall

    Totally agree.

  • FWIW, I didn’t even know there was a new Galaxy coming tomorrow…. and I’ve been seeing Samsung commercials on Hulu constantly for weeks now. (I always mark them as “relevant” because I imagine I’m single handedly draining that companies coffers dry watching their ads…. which I universally hate. “If you see a stylus, they blew it”)

    While it’s true that I hate samsung, I also hate google, but seem to know when they’ve got a new flagship device on the way.

  • With everyone’s phones selling for subsidized prices like $99, $199, etc. How in the world was samsung able to portray the iPhone as “overpriced” at the same price, and its products as “superior” when they are cheap plastic crap?

    It’s like people are still so stupid they will buy crap if you just tell them its better and spend $400M doing so.

  • Not that we have any real evidence of anyone actually buying any samsung devices… since they don’t announce actual sales, ever, leaving the media to just make up numbers.

  • Greg

    Ken, what if Apple started making some ads aimed at making fun of the great big screens that everyone seems to think is the way to go? These people could all be geeky types and they would be carrying phones about the size of the mini ipad. They could be shown trying to make calls and having to hold it with 2 hands, and they could all have big ass holsters on their belt. You could show a scene where they can’t get through a turnstile at the subway cause the holster gets caught or a scene at a restaurant where 4 of them all want to put their phones on the table which leaves no room to put the food. You would always end the ad with a rather cooler looking young person observing all this with a wry smile as they deftly slip their iphone 5 quickly and easily into their pocket.

  • Cupertino à la une

    Ken, I think that Apple doesn’t have to change its strategy, even if the iPad is not the only tablet on the market anymore. Why ? Beacause Apple understands more than any other firm, that the most important thing is not what your device is able to do, but rather the way it does these incredible things. Samsung, and Google, and Microsoft need to be more innovative with their ads in order to sell their products. But with Apple, innovation is focused on products, not on ads. So when you want to sell it, you just have to show it to the people, and nothing more. And when you see it ; the quality, the design, the user interface, you understand immediatly that this product is kind of unique. No need to call for Tim Burton or for incredible dancers. No need to shoot your spot in multiples country. Just show how simply it is to use it. That’s it. As long as Apple will have this competitive edge on innovation, they will always keep the kind of ads. Simple and efficient. (The title of your book is “insanely simple right” ?) Maybe there is a lot of models of tablet, but none of it looks like the iPad. Apple has light years ahead on its competitors. I’m not talking as a fanboy. Just like a geek. Use an Androïd and you will fugure it out this reality.

    Who cares about youtube numbers’s views ? As a firm you are more interested about the number of people who buy your device.

  • ‘When Apple took on Microsoft with its super-successful Mac vs. PC campaign, its goal wasn’t to replace Microsoft as the leader. It simply wanted to become part of the conversation.”

    Great summation. It’s more than nuts and bolts (as you say) of the technology, it’s getting into the heads of consumers in a positive, inspiring way. Samsung produces more varieties of vacuum cleaners than Apple has total products , yet they are able to pull themselves off as ‘the underdog’.

    Apple needs to get themselves back into the conversation, and can easily do so if they just use their imagination …again.

  • Really??!! Light years on its competitors?? i guess thats why the share price is going down. Is down good or bad?? i forget.

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  • McDanster

    Steve Jobs would roll over in his grave if he could, he would be furious that his legacy is diminished so quickly. Apple advertising has been super successful because it has 2 crucial components: a) Something differentiated to talk about b) Super creative execution is a simple single minded idea You need both parts and right now they are not being given anything from their product team to shout about. An extra centimetre and improved Siri simply don’t cut it, not when the others have beats audio, titanium manufacture… Samsung’s devices styling has caught up and they have packed them with features and they are exciting consumers. That is why the advertising can poke fun at Apple as if it were an underdog, which of course it isn’t anymore.

  • Hm

    Well one thing’s for sure – Apple have no competition at all when it comes to holding a launch event. This Samsung Galaxy S4 launch presentation is utterly painful to watch.

  • How in the dark are you? You think watching 20 Samsung ads a week is going to make them go broke? HA. Apple pays Samsung for every iPhone made. It has their screen, their processor, and their flash memory. Samsung invented LED screens, and as such they have superior screens to every single phone on the market. The SIII has a better processor and more RAM than the iPhone 5, and the 5S will be a small upgrade, which won’t be anywhere NEAR the S IV. The casing around the phone doesn’t make the phone work better.

    Here’s an example. Would you rather buy a computer with a 50gb hard drive, 2gb of DDR2 RAM, and a 2Ghz dual core processor for $400, or a computer with dual 1tb hard drives, 8gb of DDR3 RAM, and a 3Ghz quad core processor for $400, even if the case on the second one isn’t as nice looking?
    That’s why the iPhone can be called overpriced. You get less for more in a cute housing.

    Look around online and you’ll find Samsung’s numbers. You’ll find they’re doing better than Apple in some places. You clearly didn’t do any research.

  • Cupertino à la une

    Share price is going down and at the same time the last quarter was just historical for Apple, with a record quarterly net profit of $13.1 billion. Spot the mistake.

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  • iamfawaz

    Samsung is getting people to talk, but is it a great product or cult like following that is similar to Apple? Thats where we need to compare. Everybody wants to be Apple, but Apple is just Apple, and others should do things of their own and on their own.

  • dr.no

    Samsung is paying Carriers and Sales clerks for their Phones.
    That is the major part of their advertisement.
    It can’t do that with Tablets. So Tablets is not doing so well.
    Also, Samsung is not doing well in the US.
    It can only succeed in no contract countries.
    From yesterdays event, it is clear that Samsung
    wants to diminish Google more and more.
    Most of the Samsung loyalists are Google fan.
    That can’t end well.

  • dr.no

    Invented LED Screen? In which universe.
    You don’t even know the meaning of LED
    and the fact it is not part of the screen.
    LED is the light source. Now if you are crying
    about OLED that is another story.

    iPhone has trounced SIII in every benchmark only
    way it could win is by cheating.

    It is shame that you can’t afford Apple products
    and have to great lengths to lie to make your self
    feel better.

    500 million that Apple won goest along way.
    Samsung has only fake FRAND patents that will earn
    them 0cents.
    If you didn’t know iphone 5 doesn’t use Samsung screen.
    There are three companies supplying Flash chips for
    Apple not just Samsung. Only because Apple eats 70%
    of Flash chip market. It has to use Samsung.

  • Nameless Coward

    It’s my believe Apple is working on a new marketing strategy – and new products even while Steve was still alive (‘iWatch’). They’ve seen this coming for a while now. Though, as stated by Hm below, roles are reversed. Which makes it more difficult.

    As a creative my self I really get annoyed when others blatantly copy my work and ideas. Happened in school and in work today. It’s not a ‘remix’ thing as they steal your whole idea. Get lost. Apple does some remixing Samsung really outright copies. And for that reason I will never be able to like them. Maybe just maybe if they grew some real balls and got some own mojo going. Or give me a bag of money, which they are known for. Samsung’s top management got all sorts of dirt on them. They got not balls they are weak. Love them never.

    However the perception may be, Apple is on the right side of the fence where as Samsung pretends to be. I would have a jab at that.

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  • Great article and analysis! I’d add that several of the Google adverts of recent memory, including those for the Nexus 7, do a great job of tech and lifestyle integration; probably weighted more heavily on latter in fact.

  • rickcain2320

    Microsoft’s commercials have always been horrible. The dancing office workers borders on the bizarre and really doesn’t give you an insight into what they’re tying to sell you. If I buy this tablet I can hop across a table on one arm? ooo-kay.

  • rickcain2320

    Share prices going down means its a good time to buy apple!

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