Look here: Samsung’s Galaxy Note passed the 5-million-units-sold mark in March. That’s sold, not shipped. Current sales estimates hover between 7 and 10 million Galaxy Notes circulating in the wild. That’s a lot of units for a device as unique as the Note, with its monstrous 5.3-inch screen and accompanying oversized casing. Indeed, the Note was the first device to focus worldwide attention on a new sub-category of devices, commonly referred to as “phablets.” While some consider that portmanteau of “phone” and “tablet” to be a derisive term, I don’t think it is- and it certainly hasn’t impacted global acceptance of the hybrid devices. The point is: Samsung’s sold a lot of Notes. It’s done better than I anticipated, certainly, and they don’t really need my advice on a strategy to beef up those numbers.
That said, I’ve been in a position to see a lot of Note-specific marketing efforts recently, and I’ve been struck by how uninspired the whole song-and-dance has been. Samsung’s not too different from some of its rivals in this respect; not many mobile-phone manufacturers offer standout advertisements. But in the case of the Note, I think the shortcomings are more evident, because it’s such a unique product.
The billboards, TV commercials, web banners, bus wraps, and subway ads all combine with various other media to create a unified brand push for the Note, which is a good thing. “Be Note-worthy” might not be the catchiest tagline, but it’s at least memorable and somewhat clever, and certainly worlds better than its predecessor.
But after drawing the target in with that eye-catcher, the ads fail to bring the real cannons to bear. There’s nothing within them that’s really inspiring or compelling; it’s often just a picture of the device with its stylus laid on top and S Memo open, the app showing a doodle of a cat and a handwritten reminder to pick up olives. Who cares?
What I’d like to see instead is a set of ads that give me a clear idea of how the Galaxy Note would improve my life.
One of the best mobile-technology related advertisements I’ve ever seen was a highway billboard for Nextel Communications here in the U.S. This was in 2002, well before I worked for the company or even used its services, so my opinion wasn’t tainted by employee or customer pride. The billboard bore a simple slogan: “Either your phone has a built-in walkie-talkie, or it doesn’t.” Listed under the former category was one company: Nextel. Under the latter sat the name of every other U.S. wireless carrier.
Ten years later, I still remember where that billboard was, and the first time I saw it. I was en route to a college party and certainly had other things on my mind, but that advertisement forced its way past all of my pre-socialization anticipation and made me think. I didn’t even know much about Nextel at the time, and had never used its walkie-talkie service before. I couldn’t even think of many cases where such a feature would be useful for me. Still, though, I immediately felt like I was missing something as I looked down at my now-pathetic, walkie-talkie-less Sprint phone.
That’s what I’m missing from Samsung today. The company has a real groundbreaker in the Galaxy Note, the device not just an oversized monstrosity but the stylus-packing trailblazer of an entirely new category. It’s cultivated a Premium Suite of specialized applications built to take advantage of the larger canvas and stylus-centric input method. It’s launching with the Note’s ICS upgrade package, and Samsung has thrown together a video showing everything the suite offers:
That’s not a great ad for a general audience, nor is it intended to be: it’s obviously specifically targeting people who already own the Galaxy Note. So it goes much more in-depth than a 30- or 60-second TV spot or a five-foot subway banner ever could. Even so, a lot of it is fluff, showing stylus-based input when the keyboard would be better, and other such filler. But there’s a lot of really cool, exploitable material in there, like the automatic chape correction that fixes your boxes and circles for you, and the character recognition that ties into Wolfram Alpha to allow your phone to solve mathematical formulas you write. Those are really exciting, useful features … which I never knew about. And if I never knew about them, you can be sure the general public never did. Instead, they got this:
And, you know what? Cool. I dig that the Galaxy Note gives me the ability to drop a sailboat into my scenic coastal photo, and I understand the aspirational quality of sweeping scenic panoramas as an allegory for a huge-screened device. But the commercial still leaves me coldly disinterested. Even as a creatively-inclined guy, I don’t get amped about the possibility of using a stylus to build my own postcard on my phone. This commercial hasn’t shown me what’s compelling enough about a 0.7-inch screen size upgrade to justify dropping the extra money on a Galaxy Note. And I have no idea what “feel free” means. Actually, I do, but that’s only because I’ve become well-versed in meaningless corporate marketing sloganry. Those un-versed in the dialect will no doubt find themselves “feeling free” to forget the commercial, which they will.
What kicked off this whole line of thinking, though, was my repeated exposure this season to Samsung’s street-level campaign for the Galaxy Note. For some reason -maybe our large concentration of students- the company must see Boston as a huge opportunity market, because in the past three months I’ve seen Galaxy Note tents at three separate outdoor events: two street fairs and one concert. And every time, it’s the same uninspiring experience.
Don’t get me wrong; the tents are well-managed. They’re clean and attractively branded, staffed by fresh-faced youngsters imbued with that special kind of outgoing friendliness that you only find in marketing people. They all carry around working Galaxy Notes, and are perfectly happy to let you hold, use, and even pocket them. They provide a great demo experience.
But like the ads, it’s a halfhearted enterprise. There are no flourishes or bonuses to the experience, no clever swag that’s given to each prospective customer. There’s precious little literature, and no multimedia displays or novelty oversized phone mockups. There’s not even a cash wrap or local stock on-hand; the tents are strictly shade-providers for a mobile demo environment. And while the staff, as I said, is always friendly and helpful, at the end of the day they’re just dudes and dude-ettes standing in a tent, showing you a phone. A phone you couldn’t buy right then, even if you wanted to.
I understand that this is more effort than most manufacturers put up to market any mobile phone, and Samsung is certainly treating the Galaxy Note as its own niche flagship device. As I said before, given sales figures for the Note, Samsung doesn’t need my advice; it knows how to move them. My problem is with what this says about the mobile-phone market as a whole. If this is what Samsung considers “special treatment,” it has an even longer way to go than I thought, as far as marketing is concerned. I’d say they could take a page from Apple’s book, but that wouldn’t be terribly original of me (or them). If Samsung wants to keep blazing a trail in the mobile space -something they’re doing quite well these days with Android- they’re going to have to find a way of backing up product innovation with memorable advertising that resonates.
Own a Note? Seen a Samsung tent? Love or hate their commercials? Think my opinion is totally bogus? Weigh in below, but beware: you might get Samsung’d.