Will Beats Keep Apple Cool or Will People Think It's Trying Too Hard?

Strong Competition From Samsung Put Pressure on Marketer to Do 'Something Drastic'

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Did Apple overact when it was called out for losing its cool?

It sure seemed like it, at least at first. Samsung, as part of a $200 million marketing blast, made fun of Apple in its TV ads by depicting old people (like parents) standing in line for the new iPhone.

Apple wasn't happy. During a patent trial between the two companies, emails emerged from Apple's VP of marketing warning longtime Apple agency TBWA that "something drastic has to change. Fast."

In the most recent insult to Apple's pride, Ellen DeGeneres used a Samsung Galaxy for a selfie at the Oscar telecast that was seen by the entire world. Maurice Levy says he had Publicis media-buying arm Starcom broker the deal for Samsung to sponsor the Oscars. He put a $1 billion value on the selfie tweet and retweets.

Problem is, most people didn't connect Samsung with the selfie. As Ad Age reported, the post has been retweeted 3.5 million times, and Twitter says it scored 32.8 million impressions in the first 24 hours. But run a Google search for "Oscar," "Ellen" and "selfie," and nearly 45 million links appear. However, if you include "Samsung," the results fall below 1 million. And according to Lexis-Nexis, fewer than 30% of news articles on the event had Samsung in the headline.

Still, our web story stated that Samsung has Apple on the run. "Samsung is simply out-innovating its archrival when it comes to marketing," we said. We pointed out that Apple must be feeling the heat because it just added four digital agencies to its roster.

Samsung mocks the Apple fanboys.
Samsung mocks the Apple fanboys.

Au contraire, mes amis. The first rule of being cool (so they tell me) is to not try to be cool, and Samsung is trying pretty hard. Don't you think that Maurice's $1 billion valuation on the Ellen selfie is a too-blatant bid for coolness? Doesn't he realize that money can't buy you coolness? (It can't even buy you love.)

Apple execs, although privately seething, have been smart not to publicly vent their frustration.

Time is on Apple's side. Samsung has started getting unfavorable reviews on its latest phone and Apple has silenced skeptics with its strong iPhone sales worldwide.

The essence of coolness is to have a strong product. Listen to what The Wall Street Journal says about the next Samsung phone: "The Galaxy S5 offers a powerful phone with a big screen, but it is not the only phone that does, despite Samsung's marketing dominance. … IPhone users itching for a larger screen should wait to see what new form factors Apple might deliver this fall."

And how's this for uncool? "Samsung Electronics Co. forecast a decline in its operating profit for the second consecutive quarter, underscoring the importance of finding a fresh growth driver beyond smartphones this year," the Journal said. "Analysts expect Samsung to face challenges in outpacing sales of its previous models as many say the new smartphone lacks features that differentiate it from existing models."

Sir John Hagerty, the famous British agency founder, had some interesting things to say about becoming and staying cool in a video interview I did with him the day he was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame.

Be very careful
He also talked about the dangers of trying too hard. "You've got to be very, very careful, because as soon as you try to be fashionable, you won't be. So you've got to understand how you operate in that world and that's by doing things which people admire, people want to be about around, people want to talk about. You can't be cool by just saying, 'I want to be cool.' You most certainly will never be cool. As soon as you say I want to be cool, you won't be cool.

"It's just like when you walk into a room, and you want people to think you're funny. You don't walk into a room and say to everybody, 'I'm really very funny.'

"You walk into a room and tell the most wonderful joke and everybody goes now that person's funny.
"That's how you do it. And in a way trying to be cool is trying to be ahead of everybody else in some way or another, being daring, being different. And that takes courage."

What Samsung is basically saying, Sir John argues, is that "the other guy isn't cool. Because I've basically taken what they've done and I've made it a different shape and a slightly different size and I've brought it out in different colors. That's not cool. So I think they could find themselves in a short-lived space."

The bottom line for Apple is to continue improving the product, by all means, but most important: Don't react, because that's not cool.

But it seems that Apple just can't resist the urge. The company is reportedly planning to shell out $3.2 billion to buy Beats Electronics. The maker of high-end headphones that also offers a streaming-music app is run by music impresario Jimmy Iovine and rapper Dr. Dre, who The Wall Street Journal said "would likely be the coolest kids by far on Apple's campus."

Which might just seem like it's trying too hard.

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