Jul 13

Global branding: Samsung vs. Apple

Thanks to YouTube, we’re often treated to commercials from around the world.

Some are really fun to watch. Others, like this one from Samsung Iceland, are truly inexplicable.

Despite its many flaws, this spot does an excellent job of highlighting a philosophical difference between Samsung and Apple. (In case you needed another.)

What’s the best way for a company to build its brand across so many different countries and cultures? Centralize advertising at corporate HQ? Or empower local agencies to “do their thing”?

Local agencies leap at any opportunity to show off their creativity. It’s far more fulfilling than executing ideas born elsewhere. Unfortunately, agencies who are given more freedom can end up diluting or damaging the brand — as evidenced by Exhibit A above.

Because it places such high value on brand image, Apple carefully controls what its customers see in every country. To illustrate, here’s a little Steve Jobs story from the days of “Think different.”

At one particular Macworld show, the agency (Chiat) invited Apple creative directors from our affiliated offices around the world. Our goal was to give the global creative leaders a firsthand view of a Steve Jobs product unveiling, then get us all together in one room to discuss worldwide marketing efforts.

As a special treat, we arranged to have our meeting on the Apple campus — and asked Steve to make a personal appearance. The creative guys were of course extremely psyched by the idea of meeting Steve.

The Macworld presentation was great. Our post-event meeting was going well. And, right on schedule, Steve strolled into the room.

He started by giving our group his point of view about Apple’s worldwide marketing. In typical Steve manner, he didn’t sugar-coat for the benefit of his guests. He offered some stinging criticism about some outdoor billboards he’d recently seen in France.

The creative leader from Paris offered the best defense he could, and then went on to talk about his team’s great enthusiasm for Apple. Steve listened politely, and then addressed what he thought was the problem.

Looking at the entire assembled group, he said, “Listen. You probably don’t want to hear this, but — I don’t want you guys to be too creative.”

The room was stunned, considering that Apple was a creative company, this was a creative meeting and most had traveled great distances to attend. Steve went on to explain. “We work really hard to create great campaigns here, so Apple has one voice around the world. We don’t need you to create new ads, we need you to do a great job of adapting our campaigns for your countries.”

Though Steve phrased it harshly to make his point, he really did want our local teams to be creative. He was delighted when he saw the way some of the offices had adapted our campaigns in different cities. This work only happened because we had talented creative people around the world taking advantage of media opportunities unique to their geographies. Steve was interested in “localizing” — not reinventing the wheel.

In a world that’s getting smaller every day, “creative consistency” goes a long way to building a stronger brand.

From the ad Samsung is running in Iceland, it’s clear that Samsung does not share this value. The ad has virtually nothing in common with the ads we see in other countries. It feels amateurish, as if its creators were hot to prove their creative mettle.

Not only does this ad have a tacky low-budget feel, it defies all sense of decency by offering up a dance sequence that would have made Microsoft proud.

Most of us judge branding by what we see in our own markets. But the truth is, the big winners are determined on a global scale.

When people criticize Apple for its need to “control,” you don’t hear much about the way Apple controls its worldwide marketing efforts. Yet in this area control contributes greatly to overall success.

Samsung may yet learn to copy Apple again. But as the citizens of Iceland can testify, it hasn’t happened yet.


  • Faysal Sulatch SPHR PHR

    What kinda ad was that. Stupid. Still had to get approved from Samsung HQ’s wouldn’t it?

  • ksegall

    Hard to say for sure how these things work in specific cases. Normally, if a company has a mind to “empower” those in the regions, they would of course still have right of approval. But (a) they may not have very good taste themselves, or (b) they may wish to give the local agency the benefit of the doubt.

  • Laughing at “a) they may not have very good taste themselves” as in “The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste.”

  • Greg

    I can imagine how the pitch went.

    Director: So we have this guy sitting alone on a barren landscape trying to use an apple as a phone.
    Samsung Exec.: Like an iphone?
    D: No, an actual apple, you know, the fruit. It’s a subliminal thing. When that doesn’t work we give him a Samsung phone.
    SE: Who’s he calling?
    D: Probably someone to come rescue him. That’s when the Ninja’s appear?
    SE: Ninja’s? Why are there Ninja’s?
    D: Well, they’re not actual Ninja’s, they’re dancing Icelandic Ninja’s. Then we have this whole Ballmeresque dance sequence amid some ancient ruins, again, subliminal.

    SE: Since it’s in Iceland, could we get Bjork, you know for some star power?
    D: We thought of that, but decided we would go with a goat.
    SE: A goat?
    D: A goat. See, that’s the beauty of it. People will see that and think, is that Bjork or a goat, and we get the same result for a fraction of the cost.
    SE: I like it, and for once we won’t be accused of copying anything. Shoot it!

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  • 21tigermike

    For Apple, control means consistency (as you say). Thankfully for Samsung, their brand means… nothing. In fact, it’s probably better off that you forget Samsung is a Korean company, because if you knew what Koreans really thought of Americans, French, Chinese, Japanese, etc, you probably wouldn’t buy their stuff. ;)

  • ksegall

    Fantastic. Love it!

  • Daniel Jeong

    As a Korean, I cannot agree to that statement more than anyone else. Lol, it’s way too true.