In recent years, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. has taken an adversarial approach in its advertising, portraying fans of Apple Inc. as glorified lemmings, loyal to the brand not because they "think different" but because they are conformists. Its commercials portrayed people lining up for hours for a new phone as gullible chumps. But now, on the verge of a critically important product launch, Samsung Canada is hoping to convince people to join its lineup – for days, not hours.
The company's Canadian advertising campaign for the Galaxy S6 smartphone will feature a digital lineup. People can join by visiting the campaign website, which launches Monday, and selecting an avatar to stand in line for them. The only way to move up in the line is to post messages on Facebook and Twitter and images on Instagram that include the label #S6lineup.
The idea behind the campaign is one that has become widespread in adland: Among the most valuable things brands can do to gain influence is to get regular people to do the advertising for them.
Consumers have always trusted word of mouth from friends and family more than they trust paid messages. For digitally-savvy young consumers, with ever more ways to communicate, gaining those personal endorsements is increasingly important.
A study from analytics firm Chartbeat last year found that people were much more likely to pay attention to tweets that are written by third parties – regular people – than brands promoting themselves. Another study by Veritas Communications and Northstar found that brand endorsements coming from friends and family have double the influence on Canadians' decisions than any other source.
Samsung will try to convince people to help build hype around its launch by offering daily prizes to people in the lineup, and the chance to be one of the first to receive the new phone by being at the front of the line when the campaign wraps on April 8. It will also feature the top six avatars in the lineup on an 80-foot digital display at Yonge-Dundas Square in downtown Toronto, and on billboards in Vancouver and Montreal. When it's rainy, the animated figures will hold umbrellas. At night, they'll take out their sleeping bags.
"Social and digital is a critical part of engaging millennials," said Mark Childs, chief marketing officer at Samsung Canada. "… They're living their lives online, socially. If we can't spark that, I don't think we've got a next-level marketing plan."
On the heels of record iPhone sales, turning that engagement into sales is crucial for Samsung right now.
Since Apple unveiled the iPhone 6 in September, featuring the larger screen that Samsung had long bragged about as a differentiating factor, Samsung has been pressed to compete.
According to research firm Gartner, in the fourth quarter last year, Apple smartphones outsold Samsung worldwide for the first time since 2011, with 74.83 million phones sold compared with Samsung's 73.03 million.
Here in North America, the battle is on: In 2014, Apple had a 39-per-cent share of the smartphone market while Samsung's share was 27 per cent, according to research firm IDC.
"The importance of the S6, on the scale of one to 10? This goes to 11," said Ramon Llamas, research manager for wearable and mobile phones at IDC. That follows disappointing performance of its recent models the S4 and the S5 compared to the S3, he added. "It used to be that Samsung would gleefully provide the market with 'We did X-million units of our Galaxy device.' They've stopped that. That says something."
The new S6 and S6 Edge handsets are so crucial that Samsung dubbed their development "project zero," Samsung's Mr. Childs said. The company went back to basics redesigning the handsets and their features.
"We believe this is a phone you'd line up for," Mr. Childs said. "The intention of the advertising is to deliver on that. … It's much more a digital conversation than a campaign."
Aggressive marketing has helped Samsung gain ground in recent years: Apple and Samsung are number one and two in a list of the top global brands, according to consultancy Brand Finance PLC, which calculates a dollar value for marketing efforts such as trademarks, intellectual property rights, and brand perception.
But while Apple's brand value has continued to grow in the past year, Samsung's growth slowed considerably. According to the 2015 rankings, Apple's brand is worth $128.3-billion (U.S.) while Samsung's is worth $81.7-billion. The value that Apple's handsets contributed to that total passed $50-billion last year, while Samsung's was $31-billion.
"When they pursued a very consumer-facing strategy, Samsung's brand value more than doubled in the past four years," said Edgar Baum, managing director of Brand Finance North America. "As the handset environment has become more diverse, and competitive, it's Samsung that's been losing, not Apple. Apple is still the stronger brand."