I'm looking at a press release that flashed into my inbox this morning, a notice from AT&T that the company will soon be launching three new smartphones and a tablet. Surveying the list, it quickly becomes apparent that all of these newcomers have two things in common: they're all built by Samsung, and they all bear the word "Galaxy" in their names.
That should come as a surprise to absolutely no one; Samsung has been using the celestial surname to denote its Android smartphone and tablet products for years. But as the South Korean OEM continues to flood the market with more and more products, the name is losing its edge, slowly diluting into nothingness amid a sea of similarly overused brand names. And that's not just sad; it's harmful to the company's image.
The first Samsung smartphone of any importance to bear the Galaxy sub-brand was the initial Galaxy S, the trailblazer that set the world on fire as the first Android-based iPhone competitor to sell in truly impressive numbers. Back when it launched in 2010, the device was one of the hottest around: its 9.9mm thickness was ultra-thin for the time, and other standout features like its S-AMOLED display and powerful hardware helped it make a name for itself. By January of the following year, Samsung had sold 10 million of the devices globally.
Such success obviously merits a few sequels, and before long we were treated to the inevitable Galaxy S II, predecessor to today's "next big thing," the Galaxy S III superphone. Within that line, Samsung has retained the "S" as a relatively consistent indicator of these devices' premium status, but that's the only area of the company's brand strategy where it's shown any kind of restraint. In the two years since the original Galaxy S launched, we've seen Samsung go from assigning the stellar sub-brand only to high-end devices, to slapping the Galaxy label on nearly every Android product it launches.
That means the press release I got today, detailing AT&T's impending launch of four new Samsung devices, is liberally painted with Galaxy mentions even though only two of the four devices -the Galaxy Note II and the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1– are truly "premium" (and I'm being generous by including the latter). The other two devices, a Samsung Rugby refresh and something bearing the insufferably transparent hey-look-I'm-cheap-moniker "Express," also earn the formerly premium Galaxy prefix for some reason.
They're not alone. Perusing the Galaxy family store at samsung.com/galaxy produces a bevy of boring boxes of bunk: The Galaxy Metrix, the Galaxy Precedent, the (redundantly named) Galaxy Stellar, the Galaxy Proclaim, the Galaxy S Aviator, the Galaxy Exhilarate. Seriously, I'm not making these up. Even some phones that don't get the full-on Galaxy treatment feature the label clumsily tacked on anyway, like some piteous afterthought: "The Samsung Stratosphere (a Galaxy S phone)." Come on, guys.
Tired of hearing the word "Galaxy" yet? Yeah, me too. And that's a shame, because it's a great name for a premium brand.
To be fair to Samsung, you can kind of see what the company is going for here. I'm obviously no marketing or advertising professional, but the nature of sub-brands is pretty straightforward. "Hey look, it's a (Major Company Brand) product! And it's part of their (Product Line A) family, which I know I like, versus their (Product B) device lineup, which doesn't suit my needs." We see this brand division gradually making itself apparent between Samsung's "Galaxy"-centric Android line and its "Ativ" Windows 8 offerings.
If that's Samsung's strategy going forward, more power to it– but it needs to be consistent. Right now, the Galaxy brand situation is akin to the "Droid" problem we sometimes run into with Verizon's lineup. There, consumers get no clear indication of what constitutes a "Droid" as opposed to just a plain Android phone; sometimes, smartphones get demoted from Droid status for no good reason, as happened with the Samsung Droid Charge (kind of).
The same thing is happening to the Galaxy brand. It hasn't blanketed the entirety of Samsung's Android lineup, but it's certainly not confined to the high end anymore. There's even confusion at the samsung.com/galaxy homepage, whose 163 listed phones are a mix of devices both Galaxy-branded and not. And that's not even taking into account the tablet situation. Oh, and there's now a media player thrown into the mix, as well as a camera. A camera . It's a mess.
The results of this brand confusion are already being felt, in both positive and negative ways. On the plus side, Samsung has flooded the market with so much Galaxy-based buzz that, as my colleague Joe Levi recently pointed out, people now identify some high-end smartphones by that sub-brand. "Oh, is that the Galaxy?" people routinely ask me when they see me using my Galaxy S III in public. "Samsung" is almost never mentioned, nor is "Android;" to the eyes of the advertising-addled public, the device simply becomes "the Galaxy."
That's good news in that it speaks to the popularity of Samsung's products, but bad news if the company is hoping for any kind of specificity. Yes, the Galaxy S III, one of the best-reviewed and most-popular smartphones of all time, is in the club, but so too are the pitiful Galaxy Ace and the weirdo Galaxy Camera. People frustrated by the sluggish performance of the former and confused about the relevance of the latter aren't necessarily going to equate the Galaxy brand with a positive feeling. That's no good.
In a world full of mega-brands, sub-brands, and hybrid brands, confusion is the enemy. In the competition-on-steroids environment of mobile technology, it can be fatal. Obviously it's not as critical a problem for Samsung as it would be for a smaller company, but it's still sloppy. And for a company so bent on defeating a competitor with a much simpler, unified brand, sloppiness isn't acceptable. Samsung needs to decide exactly what the Galaxy brand is and what it means, before it becomes the "Droid" of the new decade.