In India, Samsung Wants to Feel More Like a Local Brand, CMO Says

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In India, Samsung has many products and services developed locally with Indian consumers in mind: smart ovens that cook naan and tandoori rotis, and air conditioners designed for extreme weather and electricity issues.

Now the South Korean electronics giant is making ads in India with a more authentic local feel, striving for emotion instead of just zooming in on product tech features.

The strategy seems to be working: A four-minute video about a Samsung service van venturing into the Himalayas crossed 100 million views in seven weeks. The moving spot from Cheil India has a surprise ending, which involves a home for blind children and the reason they urgently need their TV repaired. The ad promotes a local service initiative, with 535 vans to reach customers even in remote areas. (Watch the video above).

In general, the brand is emphasizing its commitment to India after 21 years in the market. Some of Samsung's communications there refer to the company as "Indian at heart."

"In the subcontinent region if Samsung can be seen more as an Indian brand, that is really where we are headed," said Ranjivjit Singh, senior VP for corporate marketing and CMO at Samsung India Electronics.

Showing devotion for the local market also seems to be a way for Samsung to stand out from the competition, especially as Chinese mobile phone brands like Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo have flooded in with substantial marketing budgets. Samsung has two major factories, three research and development centers and a design center in India.

Globally, the past six months have brought turbulent times for the Samsung brand. The company's billionaire heir and four other executives are ensnared in corruption charges in South Korea and will stand trial. Samsung did a global recall of the Galaxy Note 7, prone to catching fire, and then killed off the product. The Note 7 never went on sale in India, though some Indians bought it abroad. Mr. Singh said that locally, the company "listened and communicated about it, and I believe that's behind us."

In the competitive smartphone sector, Samsung remains the leader with 22% of shipments in the fourth quarter of 2016, though the percentage slipped from 25% in the same period of 2015, with Chinese brands gaining share, according to researcher Canalys. (Apple's iPhone, with its high pricepoint, is a much smaller player there.)

Samsung and Cheil Worldwide, which handles the brand's entire creative portfolio in India, say the evolution in communications strategy happened before the Note 7 troubles. But the ad about the service van in the Himalayas did move the conversation into more positive territory, Cheil says.
The spot "was not a reaction to the news – however, the timing was lucky for us," said the executive creative director for Cheil India, Tarvinderjit Singh.

The tear-jerking tale was fictional, though another four-minute video released in early October was inspired by a real person. It centered on a boy from rural India with ambitions of being a doctor, and it showed his classroom using Samsung technology, part of a corporate social responsibility campaign in 373 schools. Cheil is working on a followup to that ad, which has nearly 36 million YouTube views, and more is planned on the service vans initiative as well.

"We've been writing stories to connect with Indian consumers, in a very Indian way," said Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, Cheil India chief creative officer. There will of course continue to be ads focusing on new features, he said, but "we're concentrating on technology that's more meaningful to consumers."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pressed companies to make products in India in a policy he calls "Make in India," designed to create manufacturing jobs. Samsung manufactures there and has its own "Make for India" program to develop innovations for the market. One example is a smartphone mode for people riding a motorbike that lets callers know that the driver is on the road; most callers hang up or leave a message. That innovation has spread to southeast Asia and Taiwan, the Samsung India CMO said. A washing machine with a built-in sink for soaking and scrubbing clothes was developed in India and later went on the market in South Korea and the U.S.

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