Wednesday, April 4, 2012

In A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

With America's eyes glued to the TV earlier this year, Samsung sprung for an expensive Super Bowl ad announcing its Valentine's Day launch of the new Galaxy Note smartphone.  The over-the-top commercial takes some direct shots at the iPhone, then ends with a hippie in a striped jumpsuit rocking out to "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" by Darkness.  Here's a clip in case you, like most of the world, forgot to remember this one:

Critics claimed that Samsung squandered a tremendous opportunity with this ad. I wasn't a big fan of the commercial simply because it was neither funny nor particularly memorable.  But critics were all over Samsung's marketing strategy because the company used its prime airtime to talk-up one of the most boring features of the new phone: the stylus, which critics claim does nothing but draw comparisons to the outdated Palm Pilot.  Who says the pen is mightier?

Apparently Samsung took note (pun intended). A few weeks after the launch, they released a second, much more subtle ad for the Galaxy Note. This one doesn't feature any singing--or speaking, for that matter--just some soothing background music (AIR's "Alone in Kyoto") and plenty of shots highlighting the Note's features:

Critics were a lot more friendly to this ad. A TV analytics company called Ace Metrix, which ranks TV advertising effectiveness, honored Samsung's commercial with the top spot in its list of "Most Effective Ads" in the first quarter of 2012.  Three Super Bowl ads made the top ten (Samsung's original ad, of course, did not), and according to Ace, Samsung out-advertised them all, including powerhouse brands like Doritos, M&Ms, and Tide.  Apparently Samsung got the sizzle just right on this one...but what about the steak?

Before getting into the details of the product, it's worth stating the obvious: Apple dominates both the tablet and the smartphone markets with the iPad and iPhone.  The electronics arena is crammed with copycat products from HP, Dell, Google, Nokia, Motorola, and many others, but none of them have posed a serious threat to Apple's leadership position.

When Apple first launched the iPad, I'll admit that I wasn't terribly impressed.  It doesn't have phone capabilities and relies on a wireless Internet connection, which isn't always an option when traveling.  I pictured early adopters replacing their iPods with iPads, walking around the gym with the equivalent of flat panel computer monitors strapped to their arms. But, at a minimum, I figured the iPad could serve as a handy Texas-sized belt buckle, which people could customize with their own unique scrolling message--a personal above-the-crotch stock-ticker of sorts.


I still don't have an iPad, but I've warmed up to the concept over time.  Seeing how people use the iPad at work, at home, and when traveling, I realize it's strenghts complement the iPhone's weaknesses quite nicely.  Typing lengthy messages with the iPhone's tiny on-screen keyboard can be cumbersome, especially for the fat-thumbed, but the iPad's keyboard is nearly full-size and lets people get their other fingers in on the action.

Similarly, the iPhone's small screen is less than ideal for reading books or watching movies, but the iPad's screen size makes it a handy gadget to help pass the time on an airplane or in the car.  The iPhone's main advantage over the iPad, besides the obvious cell phone capabilities, is that it's small and portable--I don't think I'd feel comfortable trying to cram anything larger into my pocket.  That's one thing I miss about my old flip phone--it was even more conveniently sized than the iPhone:

The interesting thing about the Galaxy Note is that it represents Samsung's foray into a white space in the technology arena. (Odd that Samsung's first commercial advertising the move to this white space featured music from the band Darkness...)  Avoiding direct competition with either the iPad or the iPhone, Samsung waded into the murky middle with an oversize smartphone/undersize tablet (sounds like the beginning of a classic glass half-full or half-empty debate). Samsung's award-winning ad attempts to convince consumers that the Note represents the best of both worlds.

The problem is, the ad has it all wrong--the Galaxy Note seems to represent the worst of both worlds. The size is downright awkward.  The Note's larger screen still isn't large enough for comfortable reading, movie viewing, or typing.  Yet the device is just large enough that it doesn't fit comfortably in your hand or your pocket.  I'm confident that consumers are not looking for larger cell phones. How do I know this?  Because we already tried it.  It was called the 1990s, and it didn't go so well:

And because of the screen is too small for convenient finger-typing, the Galaxy Note comes equipped with a stylus. I have another earth-shattering marketing insight here: people aren't very fond of writing. It's slow, it's clumsy, the stylus is yet another accessory to carry around and potentially lose, and writing it's only as good as your worst handwriting.  Probably why you see more and more people carrying around iPads and fewer and fewer carrying a pen and paper.

Samsung found a way to capture all of the weaknesses of iPhones and iPads in a single device!  You might hear iPhone users complain from time to time about trying to type on a small screen; you'll might even hear iPad users complain every now and then about lugging around a tablet as large as the iPad.  But you can expect Galaxy users to complain about everything, all the time.  I can think of a lot cheaper ways to bring endless frustration into my life...

Don't get me wrong, the middle isn't always a bad place to be.  Mid-size sedans are among the best-selling cars in the country, and giving someone the middle finger can be a very satisfying experience.  But no one wants the middle seat in an airplane, and we all remember how being the middle child worked out for Jan Brady. I'm afraid Samsung might themselves in a very dark place in their new white space.  Under-served markets can be a well of untapped profits, but sometimes white spaces are white for a reason. 

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!

But who knows, maybe I have it all wrong. The Samsung Galaxy Note might reshape the wireless phone and tablet computer markets the way Apple changed the world with its innovative products.  If that's the case, 2012 could mark the beginning of explosive growth for a complementary product: the oversize front pocket T-shirt.

And when winter hits and the temperature falls, don't be surprised when you're hit with a blast from the past in the form of the infamous Starter jacket.   That's right, those colorful coats with the oversize front pouch, which skyrocketed in popularity in 1995 and quickly came crashing back down to earth, will rise from the dead more than fifteen years later.  I can't think of a better way to transport an awkwardly-sized cell phone while simultaneously telling the world who my favorite sports team is.

A match made in heaven?

I really need to stop handing out billion-dollar ideas for free on the internet....

No comments:

Post a Comment