Samsung stopped acting like a second place brand - and you should too

Update: Apparently, Samsung hasn't really learned that insulting the people you're trying to win over is not really an effective strategy. They've just released a new ad mocking Apple and iPhone owners yet again.

A few years ago Samsung decided they needed to beat Apple to survive. They believed consumers thought of Apple as having the superior smartphone. They saw Apple in first place. But instead of competing on actual benefits and features of their product, Samsung aggressively went on the attack. The first wave of ads seemed to really put the screws to Apple. There was even a little schadenfreude in the media that seemed to validate the move.

But let’s step back for a second and think about what was transpiring.

Samsung’s ads clearly showed not only an Apple store, but Apple products as well. Plus, the ad actively attacked the people they were trying to lure away from the iPhone. The counter-argument, that the ad was just targeting the fanatics who wait in line for the newest Apple release, is actually off base. In reality, those fanatics are a proxy for the larger consumer base whom also wanted the latest iPhone. When Samsung tried to make the people waiting in line feel stupid, they ended up insulting anyone who wanted an iPhone.

So you have ads in which Samsung spent their marketing dollars making sure the competitor’s product remained top-of-mind, instead of giving consumers a reason to love and embrace Samsung. To make it worse, they also actively insulted the very people they were trying to win over.

How did that work out?

Samsung blanketed the airwaves and print media with its massive global marketing budget of over $4 billion in an attempt to buy market share. The nearly ubiquitous campaign didn’t pay off though. In fact, their Q2 profits were down for the second quarter in a row due to the dip in smartphone sales.

How can this be? They had a more innovative product and they spent massively to advertise it. Shouldn’t that do the trick? Not if all you do is attack. In doing so, Samsung automatically positioned itself as a second place brand. Not only had they failed to leave the consumer with any sort of vision as to why one should switch to Samsung, they also constantly reminded consumers about Apple.

Samsung starts to get it

It’s been a few years since their initial efforts and it seems they’ve learned. In this latest ad, they merely mention the iPhone in the voice-over only once. That’s still not ideal, but it is much better. And more importantly, they show the consumer the benefits and how Samsung phones fit into their lives.

It’s a common mistake

Samsung is by no means alone. Other examples include the defunct Blockbuster mentioning Netflix constantly, and currently Esurance. In the case of Esurance, they are airing ads that repeat Geico’s actual slogan. They hope that by mocking Geico’s “fifteen minutes” claim as being too long, that their message of “seven and half minutes” will be more compelling. Again, what’s really happening is that Esurance is using their marketing dollars to keep Geico top-of-mind. They are effectively boosting the efficacy of Geico’s marketing budget.

How you can avoid acting like a second place brand

Sometimes it’s hard to accept that your brand is, without a doubt, not the leader. It’s frustrating. You’ve got a great offer, great service, and you truly innovate. Yet, it seems that whatever the first place brand is doing or offering really resonates better with consumers. First place brands seem to catch every break, even from the press. It can really get under your skin.

The natural reaction is to go on the offensive. After all, once you expose how bad their product really is, consumers will fall over themselves to get to you.

But in reality that behavior sends very clear signals to consumers. Signals that you are a second place brand. Avoiding this perception boils down to two simple behaviors:

1/ Don’t spend your marketing dollars talking about your competitors.
By default, if you are mentioning competitors in your advertising, you are going negative. Consumers pick up this negativity. Instead, act like you’re the first place brand. If you act like someone else is in first place, you are, by definition, admitting that you are not. Not to mention, by referencing competitors by name you may be introducing them to consumers. All this does is distract the consumer, keep your competitor’s name top-of-mind, and wastes your marketing dollars.

2/ Focus on what makes you great so your consumer will too.
Know your market position, find out how to communicate your benefits effectively, and play to your strengths.

That last point has a few components, but the main theme is “do your research.” Once you figure out how to position yourself and clearly message your benefits, you’ll be able to leave the distraction of jealousy behind and move into first place.

Thanks to Lesley Kim Grossblatt and Joel Mier for editing assist.