Samsung Galaxy S3

“The Next Big Thing is Already Here”

I’m going to disclose upfront that Samsung’s Galaxy S III commercial is one of my all time favorites. I remember the first time I saw it. When it was over, I was standing saying to an empty room, “That was f***ing amazing”. No other ad has ever struck me in the way the Galaxy S III’s did. The thing is, the ad didn’t just generate a lot of buzz, or attack Apple, or promote the S III. In a minute in a half, it did all of that and so effectively that it contributed to record sales.

We could break the commercial down a few different ways, but I think it’s most important to look at what Samsung was doing with positioning. I’ll always believe that part of the reason the iPhone took off, at the expense of Blackberry, was that the Blackberry became seen as a product that kept people working while they were away from the office. The iPhone, on the other hand, offered people a chance to play while at work. Even as top dog in 2012, Apple was benefiting from the rebellious brand image it cultivated in the 80s. It was still seen as young, hip, and counter-culturish. In fact, at the time Apple’s commercials against Microsoft still promoted this idea.

But, of course, the iPhone was undoubtedly the category leader, and Apple’s omnipresence was becoming a liability to its rebel brand image. This point is exactly what Samsung wanted to attack, while simultaneously marking their technology as outdated.

To do that, Samsung shows long waiting lines at several locations painting the iPhone (appropriately) as mainstream. Sandisk tried to knock Apple off years before by exploiting the “iHerd” mentality. Samsung builds on that. In their commercial, the iPhone users are uninformed and their ranks are being filled by parents and grandparents. The iPhone fans are also talking about really insignificant changes as the big draw for the new release (which was credible, because the 5 didn’t offer a big leap from the 4S).

It takes 30 seconds before we even see the S III and even longer before they begin to talk about its advantages, but it’s done in a way that serves to pique our interest and sets up a comparison of the products. It becomes the S III that is creating buzz and is buzzworthy.  As I said, the ad is credible: it doesn’t attack the look of the iPhone, which has always been an advantage, for instance, but instead attacks its size, its market, and its technology. Then it wraps up with a summation that stresses all of these things “The Next Big Thing is Already Here”.

But the reason I love the ad is that Samsung doesn’t tell us all of this. It shows us. This is important because when people already have information they tend to hold on to it in the face of contradictions (you can look into cognitive dissonance or at Ries and Trout’s Positioning: The Battle for Mind for background on this bias). Rather than outright contradicting our brains, which would be met with cognitive resistance, the commercial forces us to compare the products and attempts to reframe how we think about them. It wants to be seen as cooler than the iPhone and technically superior. You’ll notice that it doesn’t compare its design or layout with the iPhone (which it would probably lose on), and it didn’t discuss its lower price point either because of the general belief that a higher price equates to cooler and technologically superior items. Instead of being a selling point, mentioning that could actually erode the S III’s position as the hip alternative to the iPhone.

Generally, it is unfortunately hard to track ads sales successes from outside of the product’s company. However, this ad was successful enough both the S III and S 4 set sales’ records after this campaign was launched.

If you want to read more case examples on successful competitor repositioning: Here’s an analysis of Tylenol’s brilliant campaign.