Apple vs Samsung: Frenemies at the Gate

It’s one thing to be a culturally vibrant brand in one part of the world. It’s another to radiate that vibrancy at high amplitude across the world. It means the brand has not only tapped into global shifts in values and attitudes, but also expressed itself and engaged people in ways that resonate culturally on a local level.

As the world shrinks and our connectivity to one another grows, brands need to stay true to their roots, and do so in ways that are Visionary, Inspiring, Bold and Exciting, regardless of where they play.

In 2012, the battle between Apple and Samsung took place on a global stage, both inside and outside of courtrooms. What makes this turf fight particularly interesting is the dependency these two titans have on one another.  After all, Samsung is Apple’s biggest parts supplier, yet its fiercest competitor in the smartphone market. By year’s end, Apple was victorious on the legal front, but Samsung won on the main stage, with consumers. Apple was the world’s No1 company by market value, but Samsung was the world’s largest technology company by sales.

This same, “Yes, but…” phenomenon is also reflected in the brands’ cultural vibrancy.  Apple’s global VIBE is stronger overall, but Samsung’s VIBE – just behind Apple’s – is more stable across countries.  Apple’s VIBE is being pulled into the stratosphere by the devotion it has earned in the USA, Western Europe and Australia.  It’s a bumpier road for the brand in Asia, and more tempered in Brazil too.



Apple has, in effect, more distortion in its VIBE, spiking higher and lower across the globe in how Visionary, Inspiring, Bold and Exciting it is seen. Samsung’s VIBE has more similarity across components as well as across countries.

What is particularly intriguing and positive for Samsung is that while Apple is more strongly felt to be Visionary, Bold and Exciting, the brands are viewed equally as Inspiring (Is a brand I’m proud to be associated with, I’d follow into a totally different category, Is committed to making the world a better place) – i.e., the dimension that most directly speaks to consumers’ personal connection to the brand. Of note, Apple has witnessed a slight drop in its VIBE in the USA, where we’ve been measuring the phenomenon for a few years. This loss of ‘Cultural Traction™’ (the change in VIBE over time) is primarily driven by a drop in Inspiring.


As well, Leading Edge consumers are picking up on Samsung’s VIBE way ahead of everyone else, foreshadowing a further tightening of the race as the brand mainstreams.


It’s hard to believe, but it was just a few short years ago (or, yesterday in Technology time) when people felt overwhelmed by tech gadgets and digital means of being ‘friends.’  Today, most people feel in control of and happily addicted to them, because they’ve found ways of adapting.  What’s now becoming increasingly important is a more human connection – not just between people, but between people and their machinery. It looks like Samsung has figured that out:  take their pop-up shops known as “Pins” where the product experience is a communal and entertaining one, or the marketing campaign behind the Galaxy smartphone, positioning the device as “designed for humans” and technology that “goes beyond smart and fulfills your needs by thinking as you think, acting as you act.”  It’s almost so seamlessly integrated it feels natural, in an emergent way, rather than an extraneous, disconnected device.  Christine Cho, director of Samsung Mobile Communications’ global sales and marketing team, told Marketing Week, “We are using the emotional connection [for the first time in our marketing] to truly demonstrate how this phone can help you get the best out of life.”

This is evidenced in the way people personify the two brands, as well. Both Apple and Samsung are predominantly seen as a Sage/Magician – using technology to transform the world.  But there are traits that also differentiate the two. Apple possesses shades of the Ruler, reflecting not only its historical leadership and dominance as global tech darling, but also an icier side of the brand reflected in Steve Jobs and the devices’ pristinely elegant design. In contrast, Samsung is rounded out by a much softer, embracing side – that of the Regular Guy, Nurturer and Innocent.  The Hero to Apple’s Outlaw.


Perhaps what Samsung is proclaiming in its global marketing campaign IS true:  The Next Big Thing Is Here. 

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