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Apple vs. Samsung: Who has the better approach to ads?

For Samsung, Apple’s a figure of fun. For Apple, Samsung may as well not exist

I’ll admit to a chuckle on watching Ingenius: Notch. There’s an entertaining comedy moment late on that I won’t spoil for you, and the entire thing smartly pokes fun at a divisive aspect of the iPhone X. But it’s barely an advert – more a barb against a competitor – with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to the Samsung device it’s ostensibly advertising.

Other entries in Samsung’s Ingenius series work in much the same way. A perceived shortcoming of the iPhone is highlighted, and an aloof Apple Store employee admits the iPhone can’t do that particular thing, such as use an external memory card, or display two apps on the screen at once. The new Samsung Galaxy S9 is briefly mentioned, but never actually shown.

Apple’s current phone adverts do the opposite. Being all about Apple, they starkly highlight the wildly differing approaches from these two phone giants. In Unleash, an iPhone X owner heads down a street, fending off monsters from a game he’s playing, the inference being his reality has been reshaped by the power of his phone (which is clearly shown several times). In Memory, a quiz host asks a contestant to remember a password they made that day, before noting ‘your face is the password’. (Arguably, this is a better slogan than Apple’s earlier and rather unfortunate ‘pay with your face’.)

It would be a mistake to assume from these clips that Apple’s all about class and inventiveness, while Samsung’s lot is just cheap shots at a rival’s expense. Samsung offers more conventional fare, including a minute-long S9 advert that blazes through the new smartphone’s features. And Apple is no stranger to barbs, as long-time fans will know from the Pentium adverts, and the later Mac vs PC spots.

The real difference is that for Apple these things are in its past, whereas for Samsung they’re part of its present. You might mull that Apple’s lost its sense of humor, but really it just feels like Apple just doesn’t need to do this kind of thing anymore. Why mention rival products when yours is the one to beat? When you’re no longer the underdog, such jibes are punching down. Apple’s energies are better used convincing people to buy its products, rather than spending money arguing rivals are inferior and inadvertently reminding the audience that alternatives exist.