A new war of cool and hip exploded onto the scene yesterday, with the rumor that Apple is set to acquire Beats Audio, and with it, take on Samsung's latest approach to cool, via their use of celebrities.
Apple firmly cemented itself in the world of cool with the iPod. Apple's iconic iPod+iTunes commercials, loaded with dance and beat, dominated the the digital music era and brought Apple newfound cache. Apple wasted no time and quickly capitalized on their connection to the consumer to launch it's amazing iPhone and iPad products, further reinforcing Apple's status of inventive, amazing and of course, cool.
Samsung has had to take alternate routes to achieve mass market acceptance. Samsung began it's assault with iPhone look-a-likes, and embraced the Windows geek, often known as the "anything but Apple" consumer. Leveraging the Android OS, Samsung quickly gained a loyal, if not geek-ish, following.
But how would Samsung move from the realm of geek to hip?
In September of 2012, Samsung's digital agency of record, Publicis Groupe, leveraged their Denuo team and launched an all-out advertising assault on Apple's iPhone. The largest-ever mobile campaign in history promoted the Galaxy S3, while bashing the iPhone 5. The first Samsung salvo was to position loyal Apple users as older folks, who were out-of-touch consumers trying to be hip by buying the latest iPhone. The ads contrasted Apple and it's users as wannabes, while the authentically hip kids used Samsung Galaxy S3's because they knew it was superior to anything iPhone.
Samsung's never-ending "bash others" advertising assault has now expanded to include Microsoft and Amazon in their latest tablet campaign. But Samsung's advertising campaign has recently taken a subtle shift towards celebrity.
Samsung's latest push during the NBA playoffs is to connect their brand with LeBron James, drawing in King James fans (and sports fans in general), with their exclusive LeBron app. The approach is akin to Nike's push to connect celebrity sports players to their product offerings, none more successful than Michael Jordan and Nike making one another absolute powerhouses of marketing, money and cool.
But Samsung is not a sports apparel company, which poses a big disconnect to their product. In order for Samsung to succeed, LeBron's hip-hop and cool style must somehow transcend sport to tech, landing on Samsung's brand, which hopefully results in Galaxy smartphone sales.
Samsung is working hard to connect with American icons in an attempt to identify as a brand for all American's. Don't expect LeBron James to be the only celebrity Samsung heavily promotes in 2014. Ads with music and movie celebrities are likely to make their way into the Samsung campaign very soon. Samsung's strategy to move from geek to cool is now in full swing, but it appears Apple is more than ready to defend and bolster their aura of cool.
Apple's cool revolves around itself, not exterior solutions. Apple is cool because it is Apple, and that's enough in and of itself. But without a major new product offering causing a major market disruption, Apple has been left to fend off it's existing smartphone and tablet markets, putting the company at risk of being pushed into a Bose-like niche. Is Bose cool? Yes. But Bose headphones are for executive air travelers, not the gym... Beats audio? Now that's a set of headphones that can be seen at the gym, out on the town, in a club or on the street.
Beats Audio is hip and young, Bose is not. Should the rumor of Apple buying Beats Audio be true, Tim Cook and crew clearly understand the difference - that Apple is in danger of sliding into a niche Bose world, and that doesn't attract the younger generation to it's products.
If Apple is about to spend $3.2 billion on acquiring Richard Levine's company, it brings into focus many questions, but most importantly, is it worth it? Does it make Apple truly hip and cool again, versus Samsung's celebrity strategy?
Samsung's celebrity approach to becoming cool can't hold a candle to Apple's acquisition of Beats Audio. Beats is deeply entrenched in the world of technology and fashion, or as some might say, the liberal arts. Beats lives in the crossroads of technology and consumer trend, which is exactly where Apple also lives. Every Mac, iPod and iPhone will be exclusively driven by Beats Audio. Beats is simply a natural extension of all-things Apple.
Think LeBron will like being told he can no longer wear Beats headphones in public anymore, while his fellow teammates jam to Apple's Beats Audio headphones on the way into the big games? But LeBron shouldn't worry. He can certainly sport some nifty Samsung headsets... Sorry King James-Sung, but in the championship of hip-hop, music, technology and cool, you are about to be dethroned.
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