Former Apple Ad Guru Thinks Samsung Is Gaining in Marketing War

The man who coined the name “iMac” and created Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign believes Samsung is gaining momentum in the ad war against Apple.

“While you can still argue that Macs and i-devices have a ton of appeal, you can’t argue that Apple is still untouchable when it comes to advertising,” Ken Segall, a former creative director at TBWA/Chiat/Day who worked with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs for more than a decade, wrote on his blog Monday. “The fact is, it is being touched — often and effectively — by none other than Samsung.”

Samsung, as Segall points out in his post, spends significantly more on advertising than Apple and has proven to be quite successful at shaping the public’s perception through a mix of creative and aggressive ads, many of which criticize Apple’s products directly. Apple, meanwhile, has yet to really change up its own advertising strategy to adapt to Samsung’s growing marketing success.

In an interview with Mashable, Segall expanded on this point by noting that Apple seems to be suffering from the “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” mentality that affects many businesses. Ever since the iPhone came out, the company has mainly relied on simple ads that demonstrate a product’s features, rather than the kind of elaborate plot or character-driven spots that Samsung uses. “They were selling so many iPhones and I think Steve was happy with the ads and the results, so why change really?” Segall told Mashable.

I think Apple has this sense of simplicity and elegance that has gotten them to where they are and it’s kind of hard for them to move away from that.”

“I think Apple has this sense of simplicity and elegance that has gotten them to where they are and it’s kind of hard for them to move away from that.”

It wasn’t always this way. Apple unabashedly went after Microsoft and PC makers with its clever, character-driven Mac vs. PC ads and found great success doing so, but as Segall points out, Apple chose to be aggressive in part because it was the underdog in the PC market at the time.

“When Apple attacked Microsoft in Mac vs. PC, they were the underdog and having fun with it — just like Samsung is now,” he said. Given that Apple is still ahead of Samsung in the tablet and smartphone markets (at least in the U.S.), it’s unlikely that Apple will choose to attack Samsung in the same way. “When you attack someone, you acknowledge them and give them more publicity than they should have,” he says. “Apple is still king of the hill when it comes to that stuff so attacking Samsung wouldn’t be right.”

Rather than attack Samsung directly, Segall believes Apple’s ad team needs to focus once again on producing the kind of creative commercials that become fodder for watercooler talk and shape the conversation around the product and the company.

“Just becoming part of the converation is a victory. Samsung has successfuly done that: they are getting talked about and getting compared [to Apple], which in many ways isn’t fair because Apple created this category [of products],” Segall says. “But, very quickly, people forget and an average shopper walks into Best Buy and doesn’t care about who invented what.”

Segall believes the Genius commercials that aired during the summer Olympics last year were meant to be a step in this direction of moving beyond the product itself to “create a lovable character” that would get the product talked about. “They thought they were onto something there,” he says. Unfortunately, the execution wasn’t great and the ads were quickly pulled.

Even so, the status quo is no longer the best option for Apple’s marketing efforts, not just because of Samsung’s success, but because of a larger shift in the public’s perception. “Somehow the momentum has switched and people are criticizing Apple for things that they shouldn’t be — that they aren’t innovating anymore,” he says. “It’s a perception thing, but perception becomes reality if you don’t do anything about it.”

Segall, for his part, believes Apple is well aware of the situation and planning what to do next. “I suspect… that they are monitoring the situation and gauging what they need to do. They may well have something up their sleeve,” he says. “They can’t just have quiet advertising when Samsung is bashing them away.”

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