Samsung’s Galaxy Note and Fashion Come Together

Not too often one gets to see a marketing action that is handsomely nit to produce a coherent multi-facet brand statement. Samsung appears entitled to claim that kind of achievement as part of its marketing effort for the Galaxy Note II digital device launched last October. The initiative that involves co-operation of the South Korean technology company with a rising fashion designer Alexander Wang presents a meaningful “brand story” that smoothly connects the product’s competencies with supporting themes — fashion design, social interactions and relationships, and charity (social responsibility). Samsung already started a relationship of Galaxy Note with the fashion world last year at the New-York Fashion Week fair but in this year’s event (in February) it accomplished a true branding event to be celebrated.

The Galaxy Note, now in its second upgraded version, can be described as a hybrid between smartphone and tablet: it has the communication utilities of a smartphone device on one hand and approaches the visual display capabilities of a tablet device on the other hand. The Galaxy Note II comes with an exceptionally enlarged screen for a smartphone — 5.5 inches; this allows users to perform multitasking in a split-screen mode more conveniently on the device as well as to operate various programmes or apps that entail more visual detail. Most relevant to the context of fashion design, nevertheless, are the enhanced graphic capabilities of the device. Taking advantage of these graphic features is facilitated by the use of a stylus pen that is making a comeback (named by Samsung “S Pen”). The stylus pen may enjoy better prospects this time around thanks to far improved graphic applications that benefit from using the pen compared with the outdated PDAs of a decade ago.

Finger tips can still be used for many operations on the device but with the S Pen one can scribble hand notes and especially sketch or draw. For instance, a user may add handwritten comments on a calendar board, compose “idea-map” models on a notepad combining text and icons, and create original drawings to one’s liking and interest. Hence a customer who has artistic talent, healthy imagination and a good hand can make, for example, sketches of buildings, furnitures, and of course fashion clothing or accessory items. Frankly, the creative user can draw many more types of objects and figures with the device but Samsung identified fashion as a field with greater attractiveness. As head of Horn digital communication agency commented to the New-York Times/IHT: “Fashion can be a good way to humanize technology” (1). Prominently, one can put down his or her ideas into writing or drawing as these come to mind wherever one happens to be — on the train to work, waiting for service, or pausing in a coffee shop. These product capabilities and the advantages they offer are the basis of the recent fashion initiative.

  • Look for further illustration and demonstration of the product’s functionality in the Benefits page on the website of Samsung: Galaxy Note II or watch their video.

Let us review the three main aspects of Samsung’s fashion campaign in co-operation with Wang:

Fashion design with Galaxy Note II —  Wang announced in February together with Samsung that he would design a bag for a limited collection, but added that the print image on the bag would be designed by one of his relatives or professional associates. He invited people close to him, including family relatives, friends and top peer designers, to propose their print samples by using the Galaxy Note II device to sketch or draw their image creation, incorporating photographs as well if so desired. When ready they should send the image to Wang via the smartphone. A linkage is hereby established between the product and fashion by (a) application of the special graphic features of the Galaxy Note II, including the use of the S Pen, for drawing the print image, and then (b) utilisation of the device as a smartphone to deliver it to Wang. This activity plan is constructed to promote selected features of the product Samsung wants to highlight, further enhanced by the endorsement of a celebrity in fashion design (Flavia Barbat, Branding Magazine; see the embedded promotional video featuring Wang).

According to Christine Cho, director of global marketing for Samsung Electronics, the key message of this campaign is that “technology empowers creativity”. She said that they chose Wang to help in delivering it “because of his passion for experimentation and his on-the-go lifestyle”. Marketing professor Hal E. Hershfield of Stern School of Business at NYU helps further to explain this, emphasising that it is all about association: “If Samsung wants to be perceived as hip, cool and cutting edge, it has to have a partner with the same qualities” (2). Wang acts as a desirable mediator and endorser: in virtue of his personal traits he can enforce the linkage between Galaxy Note and fashion design, and furthermore project those characteristics on the brand’s image.

Social interactions and relationships — Wang is not doing all the design work by himself; he invites people he is associated with to share their creative ideas with him that will contribute to the quality of design (appearance) of the bag. It is not a typical collaboration programme of Samsung with its customers because he is not inviting regular customers to contribute but people in his own inner-circle of socialization; it also does not directly concern a Samsung’s product but the design of a fashion product, yet it makes use of Samsung’s Galaxy Note II for the collaboration with Wang. Nevertheless, in this activity Wang performs crowdsourcing in which he consults with other people similar or close to him, though in this case it is done at a limited scale and in an exclusive manner. This way, however, Wang offers an example to other users how they can perform their own crowdsourcing with their associates, with the help of course of the Galaxy Note device.

Supporting charity (social responsibility) — Wang committed (probably in agreement with Samsung) to donate the proceeds from the sales of the limited collection of the bag to a New-York City art charity for children. The charity, a non-profit enterprise called Art Start, aims to give an opportunity to children and young adults at risk (aged 5-21) by participating in art workshops it provides for them. Thus the whole initiative is also channelled to a good cause, representing an act of social responsibility on the part of Mr. Wang and Samsung.

The marketing initiative with Wang shows a way of expanding the meanings of the Galaxy brand for smartphones and tablets. It seems to tap on a model advanced by branding scholar and expert Kevin L. Keller for broadening the brand knowledge of consumers by linking the brand with external entities: people, places, things (e.g., events, causes), and other brands. Co-operating or associating with entities (e.g., a celebrity endorser, country-of-origin, a brand of a complementary product or in a related field) that are not owned by the company/brand can yet contribute new meanings and values to the target brand. Linkages with external entities allow to leverage the brand and enrich its identity by associating it with types of information that are not normally or originally inherent in the brand due to its products (3). In this case, we find linkages with a person (celebrity endorser), and two things, an event (New York Fashion Week) and a cause (aiding a charity project). It may be argued, however, that the association here is not with the event alone but with a whole domain of fashion or a concept of fashion design. These are also abstract things that although are not specifically mentioned in Keller’s model should easily fit in (note: it belongs in “things” because it does not involve an alliance with another particular brand).

Clearly, such linkages with chosen entities should be supported continuously and consistently in different activities lest they may not sustain as new properties of the knowledge of consumers about the brand. This is where a marketing promotional campaign can be said to differ from a marketing strategy of the brand. Keller referred to the transfer of meanings of an external entity to the brand through various dimensions of brand knowledge (e.g., product attributes, thoughts and feelings, images, attitudes). A single action or campaign is not likely to accomplish this objective of expanding the scope of brand knowledge.

Samsung is giving Apple some good reasons to worry. It seems to be taking appropriate and constructive  actions in developing its Galaxy brand to rival the superiority of Apple (iPhone, iPad etc.), but in order to succeed in this mission Samsung should follow its logic of co-operation and association with the same entities or with similar characteristics in more marketing activities in the future.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

Notes:

(1) Samsung Joins Forces with Fashion Designer, Elizabeth Olson, International Herald Tribune (European edition of New-York Times), 9-10 February 2013.

(2) Ibid. 1.

(3) Brand Synthesis: The Multidimensionality of Brand Knowledge, Kevin L. Keller, 2003, Journal of Consumer Research, 29 (March), pp. 595-600