Apple vs. Samsung – A Valuable Lesson on Comparative Advertising

Last week I ran into a fun piece of advertising from Apple. It’s their latest iPhone 7 ad, featuring a brave old man who turns up his iPhone 7 speakers and then finds the courage to take a gigantic leap from the highest springboard.

It’s a pretty fun ad. But to me, it didn’t really feel like Apple. Just swap the iPhone with the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the ad would have worked just the same.

At the same time, I read in the news that while Apple has sold its billionth iPhone, Samsung has again taken the lead as the world’s largest phone manufacturer.

It made me wonder: did Apple really lose their edge? So I figured it was about time to evaluate the strategies (and a ton of advertising) of two of the world’s largest tech giants: Apple and Samsung.


Apple’s Iconic advertising

In 1984, Apple launched their first Macintosh (yes, we’re talking about computers for a second, bear with me). They launched the Macintosh with a revolutionary ad that aired during the Superbowl. Directed by Ridley Scott, director of the hit movie ‘Blade Runner’, the advertisement was based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel and reassured consumers that Apple’s technology was to be used for freedom, not control.

And although back then Apple wasn’t involved in the phone business yet, people immediately knew that with Apple, something different was coming their way. But back then, the world of phone manufacturers looked very different than today. Manufacturers like LG, Nokia, Motorola, Blackberry, Siemens and Sony Ericsson were all still titans of the phone industry. But on January 9th, 2007 everything changed: Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone.

Over the years that followed, Apple swiftly became one of the most popular phone manufacturers in the world. And in recent years, only two players have consistently been in the top three phone manufacturers: Apple and Samsung.


Samsung’s Comparative advertising

In 2012, Apple had just doubled their market share in comparison to 2011 and Samsung decided they needed a new strategy to face Apple with. They decided to use comparative advertising, a strategy that is all about advertising your brand and product in direct comparison to your competitor.

So on September 20, 2012, Samsung launched a series of advertisements called “The Next Big Thing is Already Here”. It was to promote their latest Galaxy S series smartphone and its timing was perfect: Apple would launch the iPhone 5 the next day.

It was typical comparative advertising. Through a series of advertisements, Samsung put the typical Apple consumer in the spotlight but at the same time also showed the shortcomings of the iPhone in comparison the Galaxy series of Samsung.



Why comparative advertising

Comparative advertising is an interesting strategy that has a few pros and cons. First of all, by mocking your competitor, you automatically admit that you take them very seriously and let’s face it, you put yourself in sort of an underdog position. Which is fine for a small company but Samsung was not an underdog. They were the market leader in 2012.

Secondly, it’s highly questionable whether mocking the customers of your competitor (like Samsung did in 2012) is really the best way to compare yourself with them, as they could potentially be your customers.

From Apple’s perspective, the comparative advertising from Samsung does put them in a challenging position. Because a true market leader cannot really respond to the competitor who uses comparative advertising; responding to it only acknowledges that you see them (the underdog) as a real competitor.

Still, for Samsung, it was an effective way to show that their product was at least as good as Apple’s iPhone. So the comparative advertising didn’t stop after their first campaign. They did the same thing when the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6 were launched.


Shot with an iPhone

Samsung’s comparative advertising wasn’t just about a series of fun spots. There was more to it. With their $1 billion advertising budget, one of the things Apple spent it on was their ‘Shot on iPhone 6’ campaign. On billboards in 85 cities across 26 countries, Apple showed beautiful imagery from photographers all around the world who used an iPhone to produce their gorgeous photographs.


Image taken from AdWeek’s report on the ‘Shot on iPhone 6’ campaign

But even a campaign like that can be copied. Samsung recently launched an advertisement called ‘Captured with Samsung’ to show the 4K Ultra HD footage that you can make with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.

Check it out on YouTube and switch to the 4K to really appreciate the quality.

What’s interesting about comparative advertising is that while it can feel like quite an aggressive approach, it can work really well. If you can show that your product has better, more advanced features than that of your direct competitor, then why wouldn’t you show it?


The True Storyteller

Despite all the mocking and the parodies, Apple is keeping its head high and looking at the storytelling of both brands, Apple is the clear winner. “Frankie’s holiday” is a prime example of this. For the holidays, Apple enlisted Frankenstein to tell a sweet, sweet tale about acceptance.

Or another one I liked is the Romeo and Juliet advertisement for iPhone 7, which showed in a clever way that with the iPhone 7, your movies really look like movies.


So what do you think, is Samsung a true marketing genius or just a shameless copycat? And should Apple keep their head high and ignore Samsung’s remarks or also get their hands dirty and take on a more comparative advertising approach? Leave a comment below!




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