Whether we like it or not, advertising and marketing affect us all. Ranging from subliminal to as in-your-face as a building-sized billboard, they help convey products in a very specific way. The smartphone market is no different. However, marketing can be more than just a nuisance; it can also be very revealing by its very nature.
Consequently, the what and the how of advertising a product can tell us how the OEMs view their own devices and consumers, and not only how they want us to see it. So let’s take a look at a few different ways of advertising and their respective exponents.
Let’s be honest, should the average consumer be asked what brand an Android phone has, the answer is very likely to be Samsung, and that’s not a coincidence. In 2013 alone, Samsung spent over $14 billion on marketing. Sure, that’s all of Samsung Electronics, not only its mobile division, but $14 billion in a year is going to cement your brand as a household name. And it didn’t stop there. Last year, the marketing muscle behind the launch of the S6 and S6 Edge was as high as £45 million (or roughly $63 million). It was said to be, at the time, the highest ever bill for a single launch.
Simply put – if you’re willing to pay for it, your product can be everywhere. Every billboard in sight, prime-time television slots in several countries, newspapers, magazines, Times Square, in those places a usually-zealous adblockers slips up – anywhere you can see it. It tells us that Samsung really wants the average consumer to see the Galaxy series as the standard for Android. Much like their advertising, they want you to see their devices everywhere.
By contrast, Sony’s mobile department has had a slightly different approach. Sure, they’ve gone with the traditional media and way of marketing, TV ads, but that’s not all. For example, the Xperia line-up has been the flagship of choice for none other than James Bond in the past few movies, and one can only assume such a product placement comes with a hefty price-tag. In the traditional forms of advertising, much focus has been on the water resistance aspect. One commercial saw it dropped in a toilet, followed by a message not to worry.
What’s interesting though, is that some aspects we’ve hardly heard about at all. For example, the integration with PS3/PS4 consoles was something I had to actively seek out myself before learning about. And that is the key issue that Sony – from my perspective at least – has failed to solve over the past years. We fully understand that not everyone can spend billions on marketing; it’s expected, even. However, when a company as big as Sony cannot convey why their products are great, we’ve got a problem. We enthusiasts know that it’s had some of the best battery life on the market, it was on point with their own test version of Marshmallow trying to actively improve AOSP. Some of their strengths might not appeal to the average consumer, but then again, it’s at the point where many don’t know they’re even making phones anymore.
Slogans like “Never Settle” and “Flagship Killer” can hurt the product if they end up hyperbolic
And then we have OnePlus. Even compared to Sony, the marketing for the OnePlus One was close to non-existent, at least in the traditional sense. That’s okay, as a new company releasing their first phone can hardly afford to pump untold millions into marketing campaigns, but what’s interesting is how they solved the problem. By trying to achieve the status of “best bang for your buck” on the market, it also cemented the type of customers they’d get. It takes a lot of time and interest in order for a consumer to get to the point where reading a spec-sheet is enough to become excited about a phone, so by letting their product essentially “speak for itself”, the vast majority of customers were always going to be enthusiasts – at least in the short term. OnePlus counted on word-of-mouth marketing, and whether you call it a stroke of genius or Marketing 101, it worked. It put OnePlus on the map.
The downside with the strategy of OnePlus is that, if you’re relying heavily on word-of-mouth marketing, you’re placing a lot on something that is fickle by its very nature. When the OnePlus 2 was released, it wasn’t quite the equivalent of what the OPO was a year later, and wasn’t as highly praised as the first one. The slogans of “Never Settle” and “Flagship Killer” didn’t help either, as many latched onto them when voicing their opinions over the decision to not include NFC – a step back from the original. If you are going to market to enthusiasts, your product better live up to your word.
So why is OnePlus’ sparse marketing a good thing, when Sony’s is not? Simply put, because Sony should aspire for more. The cheeky new kid on the block can afford to do things differently, but when you’re a company that’s had a strong presence in the mobile scene for over a decade, you need to make sure people remember that you’re not only still around, but able to excel. Instead, Sony’s CEO had to release a press statement last year that they’re not discontinuing their mobile department, as many had speculated. That does not exactly ooze confidence, when Samsung at the same time is able and willing to spend large in order to cement their position as the Android OEM.
Don’t misconstrue this as unilateral Samsung praise; there’s many things they could certainly do better (I’m still waiting for Marshmallow on my international, unlocked S6.) But for many who have converted to Android in past 5 years, a Galaxy phone was likely their entry point, or still is. According to Gartner, 22.5% of global smartphone sales in 2015 were from the South Korean giant. Sony didn’t even break the top 5, nor did OnePlus, but again, the latter is a relatively new and niche company who shouldn’t be there yet, and couldn’t meet the production requirements anyway.
OnePlus initial aim was for us “elitists” who wanted great performance at a mid-range price. The other two aim wider, and should be prepared to do the work required to appeal to a wide audience. They have the quality of devices for it, they should want to stand confidently by their products as well.
So, what do you think? Who targets it right, and which one is best? Let us know in the comments!