How Samsung took the wind out of Apple’s sails

Well, by now you know all the super-secret details. Launched with the help of usual suspects U2 and new voiceover stars Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, the iPhone 6 is upon us. It has a bigger screen, is better and more advanced than anything Apple has ever done before and will [insert your own hyperbole here].

But something interesting happens when you search for news about the ‘iPhone 6 ad’ online. The first stories that come up are all about Samsung. Messers Fallon and Timberlake are relegated to the middle of the search items while Bono merits barely a mention.

It’s pretty obvious why Samsung is getting such heated coverage from the new iPhone launch. Precisely at the time the feted unveiling was taking place last Tuesday in the US, Samsung was lying in wait with a quote from the late Steve Jobs. “No one is going to buy a big phone” Samsung tweeted. “Guess who surprised themselves and changed their minds” the message concluded, rather archly.

Samsung IPhone 6 ad

Not content with a slam-quote from Apple’s beloved founder, Samsung then unleashed half a dozen ads for its own Galaxy Note 4 that offer a very thinly veiled critique of Apple’s latest launch and all those who get caught up in the razzamatazz surrounding it.

In the best of the six 30-second spots, a couple of Apple genius lookalikes wait intently for details of the new iPhone 6 and then launch into hysterics as the size of the new device is revealed. “Wait, hang on, a bigger screen?” asks one of the geniuses. “It’s, like, every phone has a bigger screen…” says the other. The ad ends, like the others in the series, with the hashtag notethedifference.

And Samsung does have a point. The Korean tech giant has more than two years’ first-mover bragging rights over Apple on both of the latter’s launches announced last week. Samsung’s ‘phablet’ the Note has been on the market for almost three years and its watch predates Apple’s effort by exactly a year. The headstart Samsung’s innovations have is only exacerbated by the fact that Apple has repeatedly accused Samsung of copying its innovations in the past.

But what makes this all so interesting is the degree to which Samsung is targeting Apple in its new communications. Granted, at no point does Samsung actually use the A-word or show the Apple logo, but it gets as close to calling out its rival without actually doing it as it possibly can. So close, in fact, that Samsung’s US affiliate distanced itself from the campaign last week and pointed out that these messages were coming from the company’s (presumably more aggressive) Korean HQ and not from them.

In the US, there has long been a tradition of highly competitive advertising, both implicit and explicit in tone. Arguably the greatest piece of copy ever written, DDB’s ‘Avis – we try harder’, only worked because the ad heavily hinted at the fact that Hertz was not only number one in the market but also lazy as a result. A decade later and Pepsi went one step further by showing consumers rejecting cans of Coke in its now infamous Pepsi Challenge campaign. And, ironically, Apple’s renaissance seven years ago was partly attributable to the highly effective “I’m a PC” campaign, in which Microsoft was openly and repeatedly mocked.

Over here in the UK we have been a little more circumspect about naming and shaming our rivals in advertising. Up until 1994 it was pretty much illegal for a British brand to use a competitors’ trademark in any form of marketing communication, hence the generation of the ‘better than the leading brand of X’-style promotions that most of us grew up with.

Since the turn of the century, however, the UK – along with the rest of the EU – has allowed competitors to be named in commercial messages. That precept was delightfully tested back in 2000 when Ryanair famously used print ads to point out that British Airways was not the world’s favourite airline but were actually, and I quote, “expensive bastards”. The point was later upheld in the High Court and described by the presiding judge, Mr Justice Robin Jacob, as “honest comparative advertising”.

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