After Years of Mocking Apple, Samsung Now the One to Pick On

No. 2 Status Comes With Price as It Becomes Marketing Target

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For Samsung, the climb to second place in the smartphone market has come via smart products -- and clever ads that jabbed market leader Apple.

Now competitors are using that same strategy against the Korean device manufacturer.

Nokia Lumia ad targets Samsun Galaxy S III.
Nokia Lumia ad targets Samsun Galaxy S III.

Over the last two years, Samsung has edged out other handset makers to emerge as the only legitimate competition to Apple in the U.S. smartphone market. In January 2011, Samsung ranked fourth in the U.S. with 8.3% of the market, according to comScore. Two years later, Samsung had 21.4% of the market and trailed only Apple.

During that two-year time period when Samsung's market share nearly tripled, Nokia saw its market share drop from small (2.5%) to smaller (1%). Likewise, Windows saw its mobile platform market share decrease from 8% to 3.1%. The companies have now teamed up to create an ad criticizing the camera in the Samsung Galaxy S III and touting photo-taking capabilities of the Nokia Lumia 920 (a Windows phone).

When asked about having its crosshairs trained on Samsung, Microsoft said in a statement: "People's interest in Windows Phone is piquing, and the Windows Phone Challenge is a great way to show how well Windows Phone stacks up to the competition."

"Samsung has this momentum behind them. When you look at this strictly from a marketing sense, Apple stayed true to a quieter and more elegant approach," Ken Segall, a former strategy consultant to Apple, said.

Meanwhile, HTC is gearing up for the April 19 on-the-shelf launch of the HTC One and it views Samsung --specifically, the upcoming Galaxy S4 -- as its primary foe.

"Samsung is the other large Android provider, so it's a natural adversary if you will," said Erin McGee, HTC's VP-North American marketing.

HTC's market share has dropped from a high of 15% in November 2011 to 9.3% in February 2013. The shift suggests Samsung's gains have come at HTC's cost, and Ms. McGee said the company will be fighting with both its dollars and messaging. HTC's second-quarter marketing spend will be second to Samsung, she said, but the HTC One's features are superior.

"It takes five GS4s to get to the sound volume of one HTC One," Ms. McGee said about the phone's respective speaker systems.

BlackBerry, however, has chosen to refrain from marketing its new Z10 smartphone against the S4 or its company against Samsung, in general.

"We don't compare ourselves to the other options on the market," BlackBerry CMO Frank Boulben said. "We're focused on our unique platform and the unique needs that platform meets."

Samsung's marketing campaign for the S4 is said to be the largest in company history. How it will be marketed still remains a mystery, but Samsung would be wise not to take its focus off Apple.

ComScore data show that Samsung's U.S. market share has increased one percentage point from November 2012 to February 2013, from 20.3 to 21.3%. Apple's increased 3.9 percentage points over that same time period, giving it almost two-fifths (38.9%) of the U.S. market.

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