Does Samsung need Adult Supervision in the US?

Not long after Eric Schmidt became CEO of Google, people around Google started saying with Schmidt in charge, Google now had adult supervision. At the time, the two Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were barely out of college and, while great engineers, they did not have the business background to really take Google to the next level. Schmidt had come from Sun Microsystems and at that time had just left the role as CEO of Novell. Eric Schmidt’s track record at Google speaks for itself. Google is the biggest search company on the planet, continues to rake in record profits and is clearly one of the most powerful companies in the world.

Over the last 9 months I have actually become quite a fan of Samsung products. During the last two years, their designs have become more innovative and to my surprise their software prowess has increased exponentially. While many have criticized their Gear smartwatch, I personally really like it and use it daily. I did not think I would be a fan of any phablet but my use of the Galaxy Note Pro has changed my mind on this type of smartphone. It sits in my back pocket and while not my main smartphone, it is the one I use for surfing the Web, connecting to my Gear watch and, because of its large screen, is the book reader I use the most when mobile. I must admit as I age my eyes have trouble reading on a smaller screen, which is partly why a phablet sized screen appeals to me.

But I have become increasingly concerned with Samsung’s lack of understanding of the American market/culture and how to market within the US. If you were at the launch of the Galaxy S4 smartphone and Gear Smart Watch or saw it on video, you know how cringeworthy that event was. Using a Broadway-like show to introduce tech products and, even worse, creating scenes that were controversial for their demeaning women in the office and you had a disaster most of us will not forget. While the final decisions on producing this production and including these controversial stereotypes rested solely in S. Korea, how in the world did their US executives not question it and allow it to go forward as it was scripted?

A side note to this is I have been covering the PC and CE business for 35 years and can tell you horror stories of when tech companies tried to be cute and added theatrical twists when introducing new technology or new devices. Radio Shack’s use of a motorcycle and cop on stage to show off CB radios turned out poorly or when Sony brings Hollywood stars into their keynotes that have nothing to do with what is being introduced are just a few examples. Who can forget Intel’s use of the Blue Man Group in a CES Keynote? Their CEO at the time, Paul Otellini’s, interaction with them was lame. My recommendation to those doing tech introductions of products is to show off what the product can do and let the product speak for itself. Just keep everything in a tech presentation focused on the product and ditch the entertainment.

Although Samsung has had other cultural challenges in our market, the recent one in which Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz took a selfie with the President when the team was at the White House, then Samsung using the selfie to promote the new Samsung smartphone Ortiz was using was completely out of line. Again, how in the world did no one in Samsung’s US executive ranks question the idea of doing a promotion using the image of the president without his permission? It showed a complete lack of understanding of the fact the president does not endorse any product by nature of his job, which implies he has to be neutral when it comes to any product, company or service.

Perhaps they need a PUSCO or Professional US Cultural Officer that all US events, ads and communications go through to keep them from making these types of errors that ultimately reflect poorly on the company and its overall leadership. If you caught the banter from the media over the Broadway launch of the Galaxy S4 you know how this one event has really colored how many in the media and even some consumers view Samsung today. With all the publicity Samsung received over the Ortiz presidential selfie, this too did not help the image of Samsung — a great company with great products.

Let’s just hope they’ve learned an important lesson from these two major missteps and some adult leadership focused on these types of issues comes soon. I would hate to see Samsung get any more black eyes in the US and would rather see their US marketing become smarter and more US savvy.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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