The Samsung Doth Advertise Too Much, Methinks

At CES, the AOL booth where we worked, did interviews, and ate lunch was just a few short feet from Samsung’s huge Galaxy Note booth, where they were giving out free shirts printed with your caricature, drawn, of course, on a Galaxy Note. There was a line around this thing the entire time we were there, scores of people waiting for hours for their free t-shirt.

Outside CES there were enormous banners in the most prominent and expensive ad spots on the convention center. Phone? Tablet? It’s Galaxy Note™!

And just yesterday, in a grandiose ad rather out of keeping with their well-done “next big thing” campaign, the Note was made out to be the end of all our troubles, ending the tyranny of using our fingers and letting us circle and cross out and all those things you wish you could do on your obviously-now-obsolete iPhone.

But I saw the Note at CES and formed my opinion in about five or six seconds: it’s weak. And that’s why this advertising blitz makes so much sense.

First, let me just justify my judgment. At CES, I was handed a Note at some trade event. I felt it, hefted it: weird size, not big enough to make shows and movies and games pop, not small enough to be considered compact in any way. I was handed the pen, and made a few squiggles and letters. It was, like almost all active stylus LCDs, slightly laggy, accurate up to a point, and generally unsatisfying. And I’m in favor of using a stylus. The rest of the details will be in our full review when we get one for that purpose (I won’t be writing it), but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a pointless device. But that’s not what this article is about.

The thing is all this advertising. It reminded me very much of movies recently where they don’t allow advance reviews, gag people who go to screenings, and saturate the airwaves with promotional material. In the case of the movie, it’s so people will form a resolution to see the movie before the critics start beating on it. And even then, that earlier drive to see it will often overcome bad reviews. Who among us hasn’t gone to a blockbuster regardless of reviews?

Samsung is doing the same thing with the Galaxy Note. Although of course the European version has already been reviewed, consumers at large are not aware of that and likely think it’s a different product. Samsung is carpet bombing the world with Galaxy Note advertising so that people will decide they want it before they find out that it’s not, in fact, a killer product. Sure, it might be great for a few people who were looking for this kind of thing. But like the Flyer, HTC’s stylus-enabled tablet of old, it fails to deliver on its own promise. The screen and stylus aren’t new or interesting technology, nor is the OS. And as for the size, well, Dell tried it. But again, the point is not the device itself, which I obviously don’t like, it’s the launch strategy.

Sure, other companies have big launches all the time. But this is the biggest delta that I’ve seen, I think, between the effort to promote and the real confidence in the device. I think they put all this weight behind the Note because if they didn’t, the thing would sink without a trace. This way they might sell a few. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But treating the consumer electronics world like the movie world and selling on hype alone isn’t likely going to be a winning proposition. Devices can’t succeed on spectacle, and the economics are totally different.

Samsung makes a lot of great things, but the Note is not one of those things. It’s an awkward experiment that they felt could only break even on if they promoted it so relentlessly that people would have to believe it was a big-deal device. It’s a troubling trend and marks another point on the trend of CE companies competing awkwardly on either personality or spec. Few CE companies have any personality, unfortunately, and spec-sells are at best misleading and at worst a pack of lies. Samsung has no personality, and the Galaxy Note’s specs aren’t really salable. So they’re in the awkward position of selling by sheer visibility.