Samsung on its Note 7 phone scandal: ‘We would not wish it on any marketer’

The phone brand’s US CMO spoke at Cannes about how Samsung had to change its marketing strategy to ‘humanise’ the brand after the Note 7 was recalled after a number exploded.

Samsung has spoken about how it was forced to change its marketing strategy to focus on brand trust and rebuilding the emotional relationship with consumers following last year’s scandal when some of its Note 7 phones exploded and caught fire.

And the brand’s US CMO Marc Mathieu, speaking during a Waking Up With The Economist session at the Cannes Lions Festival this morning (19 June), said he “wouldn’t wish it on any marketer” to have to deal with a scandal of this proportion.

“We were getting free [negative] advertising anytime people would board a plane – we didn’t need that,” he said. “But we had to listen to consumers and hear what they had to tell us, both the ones that like you and the ones that don’t.”

READ MORE: How brands can bounce back from disaster

The brand has since put together a group of ‘hand raisers’ – a group of consumers that like the brand “and still care” to help it evolve its strategy in partnership with them. It decided to “humanise” the brand much more, and instead of focusing on the product and its features Samsung created a whole area of marketing around brand trust.

“[We wanted to speak to] people about the quality, and the quality process behind it. We were much more focused on customer care. Then we also worked on rebuilding our emotional relationship with people,” he added.

Its latest campaign looked to embody this message by focusing on “making products that in theory couldn’t be made so that people could do things that couldn’t be done” – like its VR set.

“All of this was never really articulated as part of that brand promise. In our campaign, you see an ostrich that tries to fly, and a common reaction to that campaign is a smile. It makes you want to like Samsung and humanises the brand,” he explained.

READ MORE: Samsung’s profits have recovered but has the brand?

When asked by an audience member if the brand is taking enough risks, Mathieu confidently claimed Samsung “fundamentally rethinks the marketing playbook all the time” by trying to be the disruptor and not the disrupted.

He said: “As soon as we do something, it’s likely someone else will do the same. We have to consistently take risks and create our own disruption. To do marketing is a bit like surfing, you need to grab some great waves.”

During the talk, Mathieu also referenced his years working at Unilever and admitted the company struggled to create a culture of risk taking. He said the Unilever Foundry, in which the FMCG giant looks to work with startups, was created so that its marketers could learn to take risks without going through the “rigorous” management approval process. He recommends other companies take a similar approach.

He concluded: “[Brands] need to create this culture, but they should also create a few initiatives that enable marketers to take risks.”

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