Smartphone makers turn up heat on advertising with differing results


From Apple’s TV ad for the iPhone 5S

Increasingly, mobile handset manufacturers are focusing their efforts on gaining a competitive edge with consumers by winning over their hearts with splashy television ads as much as they are on bringing out faster, better hardware. However, not all ad campaigns are created equal.

Apple has consistently been a big spender on advertising, but these days it is hard not to turn on the TV without also being barraged with ads from Samsung, Microsoft, Google and Motorola. As mobile adoption grows, these handset manufacturers are keen to demonstrate the crucial role their devices are playing in consumers lives.

Because of the economics of the U.S. wireless industry high customer acquisition costs, large subsidies on handsets create a long runway before a customer is profitable, and high customer turnovercarriers bet big on new handsets attracting new customers and locking in existing customers, said Justin Smith, chief integration officer of Doner,Southfield, MI.

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In that light, brand advertising by hardware manufacturers is playing an increasingly important role because consumer desire for the product is probably even more important than the product itself.

Ever hear of the HTC One? Didnt think so.

Mobile buy
Big TV buys require deep pockets, which these large companies have. However, just because there is a lot of money behind TV advertising, this does not mean a campaign will be successful.

For example, while Samsungs strategy of pitting itself against Apple as the brand for first adopters appears to have helped create a buzz around the brand and drive adoption. On the other hand, Microsofts extensive advertising this year depicting Windows Phone devices as revolutionary have not done much to move the needle on sales.

Here, the TV ads of these major handset manufacturers are compared.

Apple has long been praised for its advertising, which effectively leverages music and compelling visuals to tell a story about how its devices improve consumers’ lives without focusing much on the products.

However, with Apple’s dominance in mobile starting to show signs of weakening, the company, which spends $1 billion a year on advertising, is doubling down on the emotional aspect of its advertising.

Recently, the focus in Apple’s ads is on real-life examples of how apps have improved people’s lives, such as a paralympic athlete who uses an app to move her feet.

The overall brand message for Apple is about being the innovator in designing beautiful experiences that are enabled by technology, Mr. Smith said.

Apple’s TV ad for the iPad Air.

Samsung is focused on targeting millenials in its advertising with messages positioning its devices as offering the latest and greatest features. The ads also take a swipe at Apple, depicting it as the brand for older consumers who follow trends rather than set them.

More recently, Samsung has been putting a bigger emphasis on music in a spot for the Galaxy Note 3 tablet and the Galaxy Gear smart watch set to the chart-topping hit “Royals.”

However, with sales for the Galaxy Gear reportedly not doing well, this new campaign may not be having the impact Samsung hoped for.

Samsung clearly stands for two things, Mr. Smith said. First, and foremost, its the Anti-Apple.

That was a very smart way to launch the Galaxy brand and attack the category leader, he said. Second, and no less important, theyre the category leader in technology innovation.

“So its products make news because theyre going to have the biggest screens, fastest processors, and the biggest host of other cool stuff that most people will never care about.

Samsung’s TV ad for the Galaxy Note 3 and Gear

Similar to Apple, Google is trying to connect with consumers on a sentimental level to sell its products with ads featuring sick dogs and weddings. The ads also depict the neat features of its products, such as camera in the Nexus 5 Android smartphone.

Weddings are always a winner with viewers so Google fills its ad with scenes of not one wedding, but multiple ones including at the top of a mountain, on a beach and a gay wedding to tug at as many consumers’ hearts as possible.

Since Samsung has already occupied the anti-Apple space, Google still needs to find a unique way to drive home the message that its devices are a key ingredient for improving consumers lives.

Google emphasizes fun services, such as maps, with a strategy aimed at increasing ‘eyeballs’ and therefore the sale of search, display and brand advertising, said Scott Bicheno, London-based senior analyst of wireless smartphone strategies at Strategy Analytics.

The first new ads from Motorola since Google acquired it were released this summer and focused on what sets the Moto X phone apart from the competition, namely the fact that the phone is made in the USA and that it can be customized.

This fall, the company took a slightly different approach, using humour. The ads depict different scenarios where having to touch a smartphone to activate it can be inefficient with a person standing in for the phone, asking to be touched.

Motorola focuses increasingly on made in America, Strategy Analytics Mr. Bicheno said. Microsoft focuses on blending business with leisure, with a strategy aimed at increasing the sale of licences and subscriptions for branded software such as Windows by providing a robust tablet-phone-pc ecosystem.

The Moto X TV ad

Microsoft has been aggressively advertising the Surface tablet but does not appear to making much headwind.

Early ads featured dancing office workers or school girls while also trying to showcase the flexibility of the Surface, but were ultimately muddled.

The company also tried to take a swipe at the iPad with ads underscoring the high price of Apple’s device.

More recently, Microsoft is honing in more on features such as a two-stage kickstand, a pen and touch features.

Ads for the Windows Phone smartphones show Apple and Samsung fans fighting at a wedding while two servers talk about Windows Phone.

They cant decide if they want to build and market a Tablet or a PC so theyre trying to have it both ways, Doner s Mr. Smith said. Its no wonder the device wont sell.

That lack of clarity in their core product contributes to the lack of clarity in Consumers perception of how their brand is evolving, he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York

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