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Forget the Selfie: Samsung Is Out-Innovating Apple in Marketing

Samsung's Agency May Be Exaggerating, But It Has Something To Brag About

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It was the tweet heard around the world, but was it worth $1 billion?

That was the value Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy put on the star-studded Oscar smartphone "selfie" during an interview in Cannes earlier this week. He also immodestly took credit for it, which is a stretch because while Publicis buying arm Starcom Mediavest did broker Samsung's sponsorship of the Oscars, the tweet itself was spontaneous, according to two sources with knowledge of Samsung's marketing.

Now, without that $20 million Oscars sponsorship, Ellen DeGeneres would likely have taken the shot with her preferred iPhone, so Mr. Levy can indeed take some credit for setting the stage (the Wall Street Journal reported the agency negotiated with ABC to integrate Galaxy phones into the show).

But was it worth $800 million to $1 billion as claimed? The post so far has nabbed nearly 3.5 million retweets, the most ever. By Twitter's count, it scored 32.8 million impressions in its first 24 hours. Waves of media coverage followed, yet little of it mentioned Samsung's connection to the photo.

Run a Google search for "Oscar," "Ellen" and "selfie," and nearly 45 million links appear. Include "Samsung," and the results fall below one million. A similar patterns emerges in news coverage: less than 30% of articles on the event had Samsung in the headline, according to LexisNexis.

"Is there value? Yes. Is it a straight impressions-equals-dollar value? No," said Matt Wurst, VP at 360i.

"Any attempt to put a media value on that is arbitrary," said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, a digital agency. "Case closed."

Regardless of the value of the selfie – now enshrined in a painting at Twitter headquarters – it shows just how far the Korean electronics company has come, and rival Apple has fallen. Samsung is telling better stories and just plain out-innovating its arch-rival in Cupertino. Another datapoint: Samsung racked up 453.3 million video views for its ads over the past year, according to Visible Measures. That's four Super Bowls.

Samsung spends loads more on marketing than Apple on a global basis, which shouldn't surprise anyone given Samsung sells fridges and TVs around the world. But Samsung has creeped up on Apple in U.S. ad spending as well, increasing $20.1 million to $614 million, compared to Apple's $627 million in 2013, according to measured media figures (excluding search) from Kantar Media.

Apple, once the standard-bearer for confident storytelling in tech, is scrambling for answers. This week it added four new digital agencies to its roster.

The internal stress became clear earlier this week in emails between Apple VP of marketing Phil Schiller and longtime agency TBWA that surfaced during patent trial between the two companies. Mr. Schiller tore the agency for losing its edge against Samsung in early 2013. "Something drastic has to change," he wrote. "Fast."

It was the first visible crack in Apple's confidence in its products, its marketing, and its market position. And it was written a year before the selfie heard around the world. Imagine what Mr. Schiller is saying now.

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