Mobile Players Offer a Mix of Messages in TV Ads

Apple, Samsung and Microsoft take divergent paths to selling their smartphones via TV commercials. The winning approach: Focus on your own unique features, and resist potshots at the competition.

Thu, May 02, 2013

CIO — The battle for the smartphone is taking shape on TV screens.

Apple, Samsung and Microsoft have recently launched television ad campaigns that uniquely position each product and company. Some take potshots at rivals, a practice known in the industry as comparative advertising (and shunned in some parts of the world), while others portray magical features.

Make no mistake, this is not about a few fluffy commercials breaking up episodes of The Big Bang Theory. This is a high-stakes poker game—Samsung spent $400 million last year on Galaxy ads—with the winner taking massive pots of a growing market that churns every two years or sooner.

Call it the championship round of television commercials.

So what's behind each campaign? Last week, Microsoft put out a new television spot for the Nokia Lumia 920, called Don't Fight, showing a wedding scene whereby guests brawl over the iPhone and Android, while two food servers with Microsoft phones take pictures. But the commercial falls a little flat because it bashes dominant foes instead of selling viewers a phone.

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Like most Microsoft commercials in the past, especially those with Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld, this one is also corny. The message is a bit confusing for the general audience to understand—much like Microsoft's products.

"It's like a movie with a lot of special effects but no substance, no emotional attachment, no lasting power," says Silicon Valley graphic designer Steve Yamaguma of Design2Market.

Judge for yourself:

Instead of fictitious scenes, Samsung has taken a much different approach with its television commercials portraying real-life moments with a Galaxy S4: a mother sharing her son's travels, a basketball team sharing music to get pumped up for a game, a traveler using a translation app.

All pretty good stuff:

Then Samsung muddles the message somewhat with another Galaxy S4 commercial that seems to have come from a different ad agency.

This commercial does an about-face from the other down-to-earth commercials. It looks more like a car commercial showing off a luxurious product for affluent buyers, complete with classical music playing in the background. The commercial targets a completely different audience.

Here is the Acura—I mean, smartphone—commercial:

Then there's Apple.

Let's be honest, Apple has a history of delivering great ads, from its classic 1984 Mac commercial to its "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" commercials. It's most recent iPhone commercial shows all sorts of people taking pictures—something we all do. The ad is simple, clean and straight to the point.

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