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Samsung Was Wrong to Copy One of Apple's Biggest Mistakes

Samsung loves to copy Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) . Regardless of your legal opinion of whether or not the South Korean conglomerate has infringed on the Mac maker's intellectual property, there's abundant anecdotal evidence of Sammy's admiration that even the casual observer can appreciate. You'd think that this emulation would primarily be limited to Apple's achievements, but it turns out that Samsung has just duplicated one of Apple's biggest mistakes.

After 1984 comes...
Way back in 1985, Apple was still enjoying the glow if its famous "1984" Macintosh Super Bowl commercial that's widely considered one of the best and most effective ads of all time. Apple followed up with an ad that's just as universally accepted as one of its biggest flops. It also aired during the Super Bowl and was titled "Lemmings." It showed a line of blindfolded businessmen walking mindlessly off of a cliff, then turned around to pitch the Macintosh Office computer that was geared toward business users.

The ad was a dismal failure, in part because it alienated the very consumers that the company was hoping to win over. Customers, enterprise or otherwise, generally aren't keen on switching to the product you're pitching immediately after you insult them.

Let's copy that, too
Yet, that's exactly what Samsung's aggressive new "The Next Big Thing is Already Here" ad campaign does, openly mocking the lines that Apple product launches generate.

Samsung spends in inordinate amount of money on advertising and marketing, estimated to top even Coca Cola's (NYSE: KO  ) advertising expenses. Coca Cola spent just over $1 billion on advertising last quarter, or 8% of revenue, and ads are a core part of its business considering it has sold the same core product for decades. Samsung still manages to spend more. Thanks to all those ad dollars, you've probably seen this ad by now:

Apple's frenemy is committing the same mistake it made nearly three decades ago: Samsung's making fun of the same people that it wants to switch and become its customers. The Apple customers that Samsung is effectively calling sheep probably aren't going to go out and buy a Galaxy S3 after being portrayed as brainless for their loyalty.

Besides, every company on earth, regardless of industry, would relish having customers line up for eight hours just to buy products, so there's an undertone of jealousy in Samsung's attacks.

Didn't work that time
Investors and consumers may remember when Motorola actually took a jab at Apple last year when it launched its XOOM tablet, one of the first tablets to run Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Android. Motorola's ad also ran during the Super Bowl and was dubbed "Empower the People."

This commercial was less aggressive, but was clearly poking fun at Apple's 1984 commercial (the main character is reading George Orwell's novel on his XOOM), even calling out the irony in how Apple's products share a certain uniformity nowadays. Apple users are represented with hoodies and white ear buds, but the XOOM user stands apart and woos a female companion.

Lessons learned?
Apple's "Lemmings" was an abject failure, unsurprising considering the morbid nature of the ad, and the Macintosh Office never even shipped. Looking at Motorola's figures, it would seem that its XOOM ad also proved unsuccessful, as its tablet shipments struggled and failed to make a dent in soaring iPad unit sales.

Source: SEC filings.

Since then, Google has closed its acquisition of Motorola and decided to stop disclosing unit sales figures, which is rather frustrating for investors interested in knowing how well Motorola's actual business operations are doing in terms of unit volumes.

The Galaxy S3 is a worthy contender in its own right. In the third quarter, Samsung's Galaxy S3 unit shipments were estimated at 18 million, making it the top smartphone in the world. Samsung began its campaign right around the same time that the iPhone 5 launched at the end of the quarter. If the device begins to see unit sales decline, that'd likely have more to do with the iPhone 5's debut than the alienating ad.

It's a risky campaign, but the fourth quarter numbers will show if it ends up paying off. Sammy should have just copied the good stuff.

It's not surprising that all of Apple's competitors want to mimic its incredible success. After all, who wouldn't envy these digits? That's why the current weakness is a major buying opportunity for investors willing to endure the short-term volatility and stick it out for the long term. We've laid out all of Apple's biggest opportunities in the years ahead -- along with the risks it faces -- in our new service all about Apple. It comes with three bonus reports as well as regular updates. Get started by clicking here now.

Read/Post Comments (15) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2012, at 8:44 PM, matthewluke wrote:

    What about all those Mac/PC ads with John Hodgman and Justin Long? Granted in those ads they were playing a PC and a Mac (not PC customer and Mac customer). But it was still making fun of Windows users in a way. And that ad campaign worked out extremely well.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2012, at 10:02 PM, TMFNewCow wrote:

    Those Mac vs. PC ads did work out incredibly well, but the key difference is they were personifying traits of Macs and PCs using people, not actually deriding PC users themselves.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2012, at 10:19 PM, matthewluke wrote:

    Except they were deriding PC users, just in a far more subtle way than the other examples in this article. Or if Apple wasn't deriding PC users, that was at least that was the impression back when the ads first took off.

    I remember all the comments on tech message boards about it years ago. I remember what people (and by people, I mean fanboys/girls of either OS) had to say about the overweight, uncool, nerdy guy being PC and the in-shape, cool, hipster guy being Mac.

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2012, at 7:44 AM, jdmeck wrote:

    Mac vrs PC was more Steve versus bill.

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2012, at 10:12 AM, BonePilot wrote:

    Everything you really need to know on Samsung's tactics. Sales are one thing.. look at how much the spend to advertise.

  • Report this Comment On December 12, 2012, at 1:53 PM, Turfscape wrote:

    @whichstockswork...the Mac vs. PC ads you reference were brilliant in that they personified the frustrations that PC users experienced in the Windows PC environment. There really is a fine line between deriding the tool and deriding the user. Those ads were effective because they rode that line so adroitly.

  • Report this Comment On December 12, 2012, at 2:00 PM, Realexpectations wrote:

    one of the most successful ads of all time but was a epic fail

    yeah makes a lot of sense

  • Report this Comment On December 12, 2012, at 2:22 PM, HighVoltage627 wrote:

    Im not entirely sure I agree with you.

    If we lived in a bipolar world, where the only two smarphone maufacturers were apple and samsung, I would be on board. The reality is different, however.

    If you look at smarphone shipments, Samsung sits at about 21% of the smartphone market, and apple at about 19%. Thats about 40%of total smarphone shipments, which leaves another 60% of the smarphone market which are customers of neither apple nor samsung.

    I can easily read this commercial in question as chasing after that 60% block of smarphone owners that might be considering switching.

  • Report this Comment On December 12, 2012, at 2:25 PM, DJDynamicNC wrote:

    I would agree with this analysis, if it was Apple users that Samsung was targeting.

    But it's not.

    Samsung was targeting all the people who haven't upgraded to the latest superphones yet, many of whom still don't even have basic smartphones. And it was rallying the Android faithful and showing them "look, we've got the iPhone killer. Give yourself some ammo next time you chat with that Apple fanboy you love to hate."

    It was a very smart play, and the proof is in the pudding - how many Galaxy SIII units have shipped? Hundreds of millions, and sales are still strong.

    You're right that this ad won't get hardcore Apple users to switch, but nothing short of Steve Jobs and Jesus showing up with an SIII would do that. Those people were never the target. This ad nailed its audience.

  • Report this Comment On December 12, 2012, at 2:40 PM, sheldonross wrote:

    It's not going to (and hasn't) hurt them at all.

    The average iPhone buyer doesn't wait in line to buy it. Everyone - including many iPhone users - makes fun of those idiots.

    Samsung can write off the insignificant numbers of people that actually camp out and wait in line. And it show's the average non-fanatic smartphone buyer that there are better options available.

  • Report this Comment On December 12, 2012, at 2:42 PM, TMFNewCow wrote:

    DJD, hundreds of millions (at least 200M) of GS3 units is a tad bit optimistic (by about 6 times). Samsung sold 30 million units in 5 months as of November 5.

    -- Evan

  • Report this Comment On December 12, 2012, at 3:06 PM, getrichslowfool wrote:


    From your same link:

    "Putting this number into perspective, during a similar selling period (150 days), the acclaimed GALAXY S II, launched in 2011, globally sold 10 million devices."

    Seems like they are doing just fine. I would also argue that both companies targeted their audiences very well. Those old Mac vs. PC adds were perfect for the type of person who might be considering a Mac, while these Samsung commercials are equally perfect for the type of person who's more likely to forego the Apple product.

    Mac was specifically targeting PC users. Samsung clearly has people intelligent enough in their marketing department to realize that Apple users are not their target audience. Converting an Apple user to Samsung would have been similar to trying to convince a welfare recipient to vote Republican in the last election - hopeless.

    You failed in your attempt to prove your point in this article. The Samsung commercial was not the failure that Apple's "people jumping off a building" was. And the XOOM ad wasn't the reason they didn't sell many units, it was the fact that the product was just not desirable.

  • Report this Comment On December 12, 2012, at 3:42 PM, Turfscape wrote:

    Wow...this article seems to have really touched a nerve. Folks, from an analytical view, the Samsung ad showing people in line for an iPhone was not the success they had hoped. If you've noticed, the new ads (which rolled out rather quickly) stay far away from the iPhone comparison and focus on the unique features. There is a reason for this switch far beyond something as benign as 'the first ads ran their course'. It's an acknowledgement that attacking the decision making ability of the potential user base is not founded in smart marketing fundamentals. Everything else is simply fan bias.

  • Report this Comment On December 13, 2012, at 9:36 AM, 48ozhalfgallons wrote:

    The best ad for Samsung would show an Apple purchaser and a Samsung purchaser being rung up at a cash register.

  • Report this Comment On December 13, 2012, at 10:30 AM, 48ozhalfgallons wrote:

    Being both a PC and Mac user I couldn't believe that PC failed to retaliate with an entertaining commercial demonstrating connectivity issues which has always been and still is a glaring weakness regarding Apple products.

    Of course leaving sleeping dogs alone may have been Windows best weapon.

    My philosophy which seemed to work was to avoid the products and buy the stock. I risked selling early @ 686. Moving on to 3D.

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