I awoke this morning to the news that Heathrow Airport in the U.K was going to allow Terminal 5 — reportedly the busiest terminal in the world — to be rebranded as 'Terminal Samsung Galaxy S5' for two weeks. I immediately checked the source link to make sure it wasn't a lesser Onion-style satirical outlet, and the date to make sure it wasn't April 1st. Neither were the case. Via Android Central:
Russell Taylor, Vice President, Corporate Marketing, at Samsung Electronics UK & Ireland, said: "We are always looking for ways to maximise brand impact and this activity is testament to that. The partnership with Heathrow Airport and JCDecaux Airport was a one-off opportunity to push the boundaries like no other brand has been allowed to do before."
The initiative includes all signage throughout the Terminal Samsung Galaxy S5 terminal – at the entrance and drop-off locations, in the lounges, at security and at the gates. In addition, all 172 digital panels in the main terminal, gate rooms and baggage reclaim areas will feature the rebrand 'Terminal Samsung Galaxy S5' and images of the Galaxy S5 smartphone.
I used to work in product marketing. I understand branding all too well. People buy what they're familiar and comfortable with. The more they see and hear about your brand the more familiar and comfortable they become with it and the more likely they are to choose it over a lesser-known competitor. That Samsung approaches brand marketing with a crassness matched only by their billions-of-dollars in ad spend should come as a surprise to exactly no one. If left to their own devices, I'm sure Samsung would be more than happy to have their logo mass-driver-etched on the moon.
But that's why human beings evovled the word "no", and that's why Heathrow should have used it.
Not because Heathrow doesn't need the money Samsung is offering — I'm sure they have many important, maybe even vital needs for it — but because it's bad for their customers, for the travelers who have to make their way through Terminal 5, which is stressful enough during the best of times. For the travelers who don't need the extra confusion, incoherence, and insanity of having to hear, see, and figure out a Galaxy S5 gilded terminal when all they want to do is find their gate and get on their plane.
A while ago the large downtown movie theater in Montreal changed its name from the Famous Players to Scotia Bank Theatre (Cinema Banque Scotia). I can't tell you how much confusion and chaos that's caused when I try to meet visiting friends to catch a movie. Who expects to see a movie at a place that's branded as a bank? Probably the same number of people who expect to catch a plane at a terminal branded as a phone.
Advertising is tricky. Ideally you want advertising to captivate and delight potential customers. You want to show them how your products and/or services can help them and improve their lives. You never want to cross the line into hindering and annoying them because that creates negative brand association. You never want to become the jackhole company that got in their way and made it hard for them to find their movie or get where they're going. That's the line that's being walked here. Maybe crossed.
Samsung has engaged in an unprecedented marketing campaign for their Galaxy S series as well as more than a few truly distasteful, unethical shenanigans along the way. I hope they remain alone in that but I fear they won't. It's tempting to plead for a return to the best kind of marketing — making truly amazing products that engage customers. However, that didn't help Palm or Nokia and isn't helping HTC. The truth is you need both amazing products and amazing brand awareness. Samsung feels like they're putting too much effort and economics behind the second of those and not enough behind the first. There can be a better balance.
Likewise Heathrow could placard Samsung all over their terminal without ceding the terminal itself or customer experience in the process. They could use sponsored technology to make the terminal and travel experience better not just branded. Hell, give every weary, anxious traveler a free beverage in a Samsung festooned cup. Something, anything, that leaves them better off than before the brand interaction. Anything that strikes a better balance.
So what does this have to do with Apple and why am I writing about it on iMore? Because it matters to me as a technology consumer. It matters to me that, at the very least, it becomes a subject of discussion. Today it's Samsung, tomorrow LG or someone else and then... who knows. How much more slippery can the slope we're on become before we're buried in branding?
Every inch of our attention taken is a mile of our experience lost. I don't think Apple would ever go for this kind of marketing, but I don't want a world where Apple is the only choice, the only viable company aligned with my interests as a consumer.
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