Samsung PR: How the Electronics Giant has Survived
When it comes to PR, the South Korean electronics giant Samsung has had its share of good, and spectacularly bad times. Remember the exploding Galaxy Note 7? Or the folding phone that didn’t fold? These were embarrassing PR screw-ups from one of the world’s leading tech brands.
Unsurprisingly, Samsung public relations took a battering, but the brand has emerged with its reputation intact (for the most part). So how did they do it?
Let’s look in more detail at how Samsung dealt with the Note 7 and Galaxy Fold PR crises, as well as examples of Samsung PR in action.
The exploding Galaxy Note 7
Samsung released the Galaxy Note 7, (their most sophisticated smartphone ever), in August 2016.
The launch was highly anticipated. The press were excited. As were industry experts. Everyone believed the phone would challenge Apple’s dominance in the market.
But that idea went up in flames when Note 7s started overheating and exploding.
Within weeks of the launch, the smartphone was deemed a fire hazard and the company had to recall more than 3 million devices.
It was a full-blown public relations disaster for Samsung.
However, the brand was praised for the way they handled the situation.
They took quick and definitive action, recalling devices, replacing them and admitting they messed up. All the hallmarks of good PR crisis management.
But they did make one mistake. In the aftermath of the incident, they assured consumers they knew what the problem was, but they clearly didn’t, as the problem persisted with the replacement phones. The company was forced to implement an embarrassing second recall and plough millions into finding out what went wrong. After a lengthy investigation, they discovered that faulty batteries were to blame.
Rather than attempt a third launch, Samsung cut their losses and stopped production of the ill-fated phone altogether and focused on overhauling their safety testing process instead.
The whole fiasco cost them north of $17 billion.
This double-whammy PR disaster left everyone wondering if the tech behemoth would ever be able to restore its damaged reputation and bounce back.
But it seems that customers can hardly remember the dark days of exploding Galaxy Notes. Considering how catastrophic it could have been, most electronics consumers seem to have forgotten about the media fall out and moved on to something else, much to Samsung’s delight.
How did the brand weather the PR storm and stay in their customers’ good books?
There are three reasons:
1. In 2016, Samsung dominated the global smartphone market. They had a reputation for producing groundbreaking, superior quality electronic products. As far as customers were concerned, Note 7 was an isolated incident. Essentially, Samsung’s reputation protected them.
2. They nailed their PR crisis comms by:
- Holding themselves accountable: A lot of brands stick their heads in the sand when a PR crisis hits. But not Samsung. To their credit, they were open and honest, and took full responsibility of the issue, which couldn’t have been easy when images of the charred remains of their flagship product were plastered all over social media.
- Acting fast: The brand didn’t hang around for things to get worse. They recalled the phones, sent out replacements and recalled the replacements when they realised there was still a problem. They asked their global partners to stop selling the devices as soon as they became aware of the issue, and advised anyone who had one to stop using it.
- Keeping everyone in the loop: The company held a press conference as soon as they realised just how big a problem they were dealing with. They didn’t pretend it wasn’t happening, or make excuses.
3. Getting to the bottom of the problem: Following the second recall, Samsung’s tech people teamed up with 700 researchers and engineers, to test 200,000 phones and 30,000 batteries. They also invited third party auditors in to help and set up a battery advisory group, which included academics from several world-class universities and tech-bods from battery consultancy firms.
A million dollar solution
The exercise cost Samsung millions, but it showed consumers they were serious about getting to the bottom of the problem, and more importantly, that they prioritised customer safety over profit.
Thankfully, their efforts paid off. Following the fiasco, research by YouGov found that Samsung’s reputation had survived the disaster intact, as they remained the third most popular electronics brand in the UK, ahead of arch-rival Apple.
Not many brands could pull that off after such a serious product malfunction.
The unfolding Galaxy Fold
Following the Note 7 incident, Samsung’s subsequent phone launches went smoothly until 2019, when they suffered another faux pas with the Galaxy Fold. Set to be the world’s first foldable smartphone, the tech world was buzzing. Speculation was rife and thousands of models were sent to journalists in anticipation of glowing reviews.
But there was a problem. The Galaxy Fold didn’t fold.
This didn’t go down well with reviewers. Journalists mocked Samsung mercilessly, and videos of cracked screens went viral, within minutes.
This time around, Samsung’s response was less than textbook because:
- They were slow to recall the devices: Problems with the phone surfaced after two days, but it took Samsung almost 10 days to recall all the devices. This gave journalists plenty of time to write stories.
- They weren’t clear about what went wrong: Journalists complained that the instructions on using the phone were unclear. Some removed the plastic film off the screen, thinking it was a screen protector. But it was essential to make the phone fold.
Nobody knew what was going on, and Samsung did little to quell the speculation.
However, despite the disastrous launch, Samsung’s reputation remained intact – again. And this time it wasn’t down to their awesome crisis comms. So, how did they do it?
Samsung had another thing working in their favour: an extremely large, and very loyal customer base. Let’s face it, loyal customers are the backbone of any successful brand. If you consistently deliver on your promises, and treat them well, they’ll forgive you when things go wrong.
This is exactly what happened for Samsung. Over the years they’ve worked hard to make their customers feel valued, by giving them lots of freebies, and access to exclusive events like a pop-up Lewis Capaldi gig in 2020.
Samsung’s efforts with customers paid dividends during the Note 7 fiasco. When given the option of a refund or a replacement handset, 90% of their customers chose another Note 7. That says something about brand loyalty.
In 2017, French technology company ReportLinker conducted a survey to see if Samsung’s brand image had been affected by the Note 7 crisis. The results said it all. 90% of customers remained loyal to the brand despite the crisis. And 81% of smartphone users were still confident in the safety of their smartphones.
This is a pretty amazing result, all things considered.
Samsung public relations examples
We’ve looked at the bad, now let’s look at the good.
For Samsung, public relations has been key to their success. This is evident from their innovative, attention-grabbing campaigns.
Let’s see how clever public relations has helped the brand establish their loyal following, and catapult them to the top of the tech tree.
The Oscars selfie
Before exploding phones became the big Samsung PR story, the brand was basking in the glory of producing what became the most retweeted tweet ever at the time.
The brand, which sponsored the 2017 event, was delighted when host Ellen DeGeneres organised a mid-ceremony selfie with a bunch of her celebrity friends, including Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep.
The picture was of course, taken on a Samsung mobile.
The Samsung PR team was thrilled, as the image was retweeted more than 3m times.
When Samsung launch a product, they want everyone to know about it. And that’s exactly what happened with the unveiling of their QLED TV.
On Friday 24 May 2018, millions of people across the UK feared their TV sets had broken as their screens went blank during ad breaks on popular TV shows including The Simpsons, Coronation Street and First Dates.
Screens buzzed with static before going black and silent, leaving viewers scratching their heads.
After a few seconds, text appeared saying, ‘this is the end … no more blank screens … Samsung QLED TV,’ followed by the hashtag #tvblackout.
This quirky ad campaign was a world-first for Samsung. Not only was it the first time television screens had gone entirely ‘blank’ during an ad break, but the technology (which enabled TV sets to blend in with the décor of the home) was revolutionary.
The ambient tech was launched in response to research by Samsung UK PR team which found that ‘the majority of British adults (60%) believe that black TV screens dominate a room or stand out too much.’ They also found that ‘(61%) agreed that modern tastes in interior design are less ‘showy’ than in previous decades, suggesting we care more about concealing technology within the design of a room than in previous years.’
This unique ad campaign reinforced Samsung as innovators in the tech space, and highlighted the fact that they listen to what consumers want.
It hit the right note with the media too, making headlines in all the national newspapers and tech industry magazines. It was another win for Samsung PR UK.
The largest photobook in the world
There’s nothing better than a world record attempt to engage customers, as Samsung discovered in 2013.
To mark the launch of the Galaxy S4 Zoom smartphone, Samsung Electronics Germany (SEG) set their sights on a Guinness world record for ‘The Largest Photobook in the world’.
They called on their huge network of customers to become part of the record attempt by uploading ten photos to Facebook, for inclusion in the book. As an extra incentive, participant’s names were put into a draw to win one of ten Galaxy S4 Zoom handsets for taking part.
Samsung’s fans responded in droves. Within 10 days, 10 million Facebook users submitted 36,000 photos.
From those, Samsung selected 28,000 to be printed in the record-breaking 16 x 26 foot, 12-tonne, 16-page photo album.
This super-sized campaign was an inspired way to involve fans in the brand while promoting the Galaxy S4 with its solid camera.
The mammoth photo book was displayed in the Berlin Museum for Communication, where it was visited by people from all over the world.
Galaxy Note 10’s interactive video adventure
Promoting a new phone is no easy task. New models are released every day (or so it feels), and phone users have notoriously short attention spans. So Samsung needed to do something clever to make their Galaxy Note 10 stand out.
With the help of social agency Social Chain, they created an immersive first-person adventure game on the social media platform their target market (millennials) love the most: Instagram.
Inspired by ‘Bandersnatch,’ an interactive episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror series, the game sends you on a mission to safely carry a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 to an unknown destination.
However, the phone is stolen en route and you have to chase the thief through various urban environments to retrieve it. You’re forced to make choices throughout the game, which take you to different Instagram accounts depending on the choices you make. On reaching the account, you can continue the story by tapping on the highlight of the story. When you make another choice, you’re taken to a different account.
To make the game work, Samsung had to create 20 Instagram accounts and 50 Instagram Stories, which was no mean feat.
But their hard work paid off. The tech-led campaign, which used Instagram stories in a clever, innovative way, was a hit with millennials and the media alike.