Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) unveiled the original Galaxy Note, its first generation flagship phablet, at IFA 2011. Initially, the device was met with a great deal of skepticism, and was commonly written off by its critics as too large to be useful.
But over the years, Samsung's giant phone has slowly won over its detractors, and sales of the device have grown exponentially with each new iteration. On Friday, more than three years after the Galaxy Note's unveiling, Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) first phablet, the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, will go on sale.
In yet another example of Samsung's massive marketing budget, the South Korean tech giant's latest ad campaign centers around this fact, urging consumers to remember that, long before Apple entered the market, Samsung was there first.
In the past, Samsung's ads seemed to work to its advantage, allowing its brand to stand apart from the competition. But its attempts to publicize the next iteration of the Galaxy Note -- the Galaxy Note 4 -- seem to draw more attention to Apple's products than its own.
"Ahead of its time"
Continuing its multi-year assault on Apple, Samsung's latest ad attempts to paint the iPhone-maker as behind the times: "[The Note] is being imitated," says a voice, while news articles detailing Apple's iPhone 6 Plus flash across the screen.
Samsung's logic is sound: Although it wasn't the first company to release an oversized phone (Dell's short-lived Streak predated the Note by a year), it was the first to popularize the concept. Apple, meanwhile, stuck by the iPhone's smaller form factor, repeatedly defending the iPhone 5's much smaller, 4-inch screen.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have generated record pre-orders, and both devices should sell in the tens of millions over the next few months. Still, if consumers didn't already know that Apple had followed Samsung into the big screen market, the South Korean tech giant is doing its best to make them aware.
How much Samsung is devoting to this particular ad campaign is unknown, but the company has been a prolific advertising buyer in recent years. In 2013, it spent an estimated $14 billion on advertising and marketing globally, and $363 million advertising its phones in the U.S. alone.
Can a stylus save Samsung's phone?
To be fair, Samsung's Note 4 ad isn't completely devoted to popularizing Apple's foray into the phablet market. The back half is spent detailing the Note's unique features, with Samsung labeling the Note 4 as "more than big."
In addition to its screen, the Note 4 is distinguished by Samsung's S-Pen -- the high-tech stylus that turns the phone into a sort of notepad, and gives the device its name. Samsung's Note 4 also has multi-window capabilities and other features that, in theory, allow for greater productivity.
If the Note 4 is to withstand the competition from Apple, the S-Pen seems likely to play a large role. Apple's iconic founder Steve Jobs was no fan of styluses, famously trashing the concept when he unveiled the original iPhone in 2007 -- "nobody wants a stylus," Jobs said.
But Jobs also trashed oversized phones, and in this instance, he may have been wrong again. Samsung has said that the majority of Note owners use the S-Pen on a daily basis, though, as an owner of multiple Note devices, I can say that doesn't apply to me. Interesting, although the ad does tout the Note 4's unique capabilities, including the S-Pen, it doesn't explicitly mention them as unique: If big phone buyers crave a stylus or true multitasking, they won't get them with Apple's alternative, but viewers of Samsung's ad would never know that.
Samsung may have been first, but not this time
When it comes to oversized phones, Samsung may have beaten Apple to the punch. But ironically, this year, it will be Apple that strikes first -- the iPhone 6 Plus will make its sales debut weeks before Samsung's Galaxy Note 4.
As an aggressive buyer of ads, Samsung's Note 4 marketing blitz is hardly surprising, and the popular image -- that Samsung is less innovative than Apple -- is largely outdated. Samsung's new ad does a solid job conveying that; still, it seems the company could've done better than to draw attention to its rival's product just days before its debut. In the early days of the Galaxy brand, Samsung's anti-Apple ads successfully established the company as the number two player in the industry. But at this point, its incessant need to compare itself to Apple, especially when it has beaten the iPhone-maker to the market, suggests a sort of "little brother" complex.
Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.