by Tom Kaneshige

Mobile Players Offer a Mix of Messages in TV Ads

May 02, 20133 mins
Consumer ElectronicsInnovationSmartphones

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.

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.

Slideshow: Tech Logos: The Stories Behind the Designs

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.

The act of taking pictures and capturing the moment on your iPhone is perhaps the closest connection you can have with a smartphone. It’s probably why Apple chose to focus on this singular feature. There’s no need to dwell on an array of features and apps, like the iPhone commercials from earlier this year.

“Yes, Apple has stumbled in the marketplace and has lost a little of where the market is going, so that’s probably why they went back to the basics in their ads and reinforce the bond that had been established,” says Yamaguma, who admits a bias toward Apple products.

“The iPhone ad reminds us that we have the opportunity to marvel in the world around us.”

Marvel away:

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at