Getting away from bad news

Up in Arms About Ads 7

Samsung commercial #1 – “Commitment to Quality”

There is a TV commercial that made me laugh out loud it is so outrageously self-serving. It has exactly the opposite effect on me that the advertiser probably wanted. It is for Samsung, called “Commitment to Quality”. It looks like a dramatization of the tests that Samsung phones are put through to prove that “Quality is our priority”, as the tagline has it. That includes heating them, getting them wet, dropping them and bending them. The ad does not show any tests on the phone batteries. Of course, that is the immediate association people have with Samsung phones these days: exploding batteries, because of the Note 7 smartphones.

Samsung’s strategy and its avoidance of a clear safety message, can be explained as follows:

“After the damaging recall of its fire-prone Note 7 smartphone, you could be forgiven for thinking Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) would make a song and dance about battery safety in its new [Galaxy S8] flagship phones, due to be launched in the United States on Wednesday. But in the run-up to the launch, crucial to the South Korean technology giant winning back consumer confidence, its marketing effort so far makes little mention of safety. “If you talk about safety, it presupposes a rationale for why, unconsciously, and they know this; and they also know the media will pick up that narrative,” said Los Angeles-based Eric Schiffer, a brand strategy expert and chairman of Reputation Management Consultants. “Highlighting the safety issue at this point will cause the other narrative to be recycled, so they have elected to suppress and hope.” (From: With new phone due, Samsung dials down on safety message, by Se Young Lee, Seoul, March 28, 2017)

This “Quality” commercial is an attempt by the company to blur information or redirect attention about their past problem. Unfortunately for Samsung, their exploding phones caused the internet to erupt in a firestorm of memes, particularly because tech users are quite sharp, and the incident has taken on a life of its own online. As a result, people do remember what happened before and will not this ad seriously.

“As they always say, never sleep with the phone under your pillow.”

The agencies 72andSunny (Agency), MWWPR (Creative Agency), R/GA (Digital Agency) should have chosen another angle to focus on – price, appearance, features, functionality – anything but this.

Samsung commercial #2 – The Ostrich

And sure enough, a few weeks later, another Samsung product ad premièred. This one is actually funny, and it cleverly avoids the whole quality checking/exploding phone issue by taking a completely different angle; not quality, or safety, but creativity, possibility and virtual reality.

It features an ostrich that gets its head stuck in a Gear VR headset that happens to play a flight simulator video, and that gets so inspired that he actually manages to get airborne without the headset…contrary to all rules of nature. (The Gear VR doesn’t just work by itself. It needs a phone inside, like the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus smartphones that Samsung just unveiled.) The film is set somewhere in the Karoo region of South Africa, where there are many ostrich farms, and everything, from the farmhouse, to the “stoep”, to the plants, dust and rocky outcrops, are true to life. And the ostriches, of which at least one is CGI, are completely convincing. The music track, Rocket Man, sung by Elton John, is a perfect fit. And so is the tagline: “We make what can’t be made. So you can do what can’t be done”.

The ad, for the U.S. market,  is by Leo Burnett, Chicago (agency), MJZ (production), and  Matthijis Van Heijningen (director). The new spot reflects Samsung’s “Do What You Can’t” global idea platform, developed by Leo Burnett, that was first introduced by the brand during the 2016 Olympic Games through “The Anthem” and “Chant.” The ad has been a hit, with its sheer quirky charm distracting the public from the other not-so-good messages. With 10.5 million views, at April 18, 2017, “Ostrich”  was on the Viral Video Chart at No. 5.

In this case, it does not matter that the storyline, or the subject, do not match reality, since it is about virtual reality, about doing what can’t be done. Moreover, it does not leave any room for odious comparisons with previous products or previous tests. Though it uses an existing concept, the message has been shifted away from the old product and all its associations, to the new one which so far has not had any problems. In short, the agency has reacted correctly to its client’s previous PR disaster – it has moved on swiftly.

The best advice in the case of a PR disaster like Samsung experienced, is:

  1. Apologize (sincerely) – Don’t bother justifying or explaining or harping on about it. 
  2. Rectify/replace/repair.
  3. Shut up and lie low.
  4. Don’t do it again. 
  5. Move on swiftly. Change the subject completely.

So let’s say you have an environmental fiasco on your mine, and the whole world knows about it. Do not go taking out an ad or making a press statement about how brilliant your environmental management practices are. And for goodness’ sake, don’t go on a tweeting rampage. No-one will believe you. Apologize, make it right, shut up and lie low and if you’re lucky the whole thing will fade from the headlines, and don’t do it again, ever. If you can, PROVE that you have made it right and that things are distinctly better than before. But just hyping and blowing smoke? Don’t do it.

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