Samsung ambushes Nokia in smartphone war

In a packed theatre, scores of excited movie buffs sat through a long march of commercials patiently, but the organisers were dismayed. It was an exclusive premier of SRK-starrer Ra.One for mobile phone maker Nokia’s premium users at PVR Select City Walk mall in Delhi, but the advertisements that had been running for the previous few minutes were ofSamsung mobile!

That was in October. Two months later, when Nokiarolled out Lumia cabs in Bangalore as part of its biggest marketing drive in the country to promote its first Windows smartphone, Samsung brought out its own Omnia cab and stationed it outside the Lumia showroom for a few days.

Analysts call it ambush marketing, Samsung says it’s not. Whatever, but the cut-throat competition between the country’s top two mobile handset players looks like the old Cola War between Coca-Cola and PepsiCo and refreshes memories of Pepsi’s ‘Nothing official about it’ campaign during the 1996 cricket World Cup that introduced the concept of ambush marketing in India.

“We do not acknowledge, react or engage in ambush marketing,” a Nokia spokesperson says. “We believe in responsible marketing, where we will disclose more than what is required to our consumers, as we did in the case of the minor software glitch in Lumia 800.”

Samsung denies ambushing Nokia, and says both the examples were part of independent marketing initiatives. “We were running a media innovation in October for tablets wherein all screens at Ambience Mall PVR and Inox in Mumbai showed the ads,” a Samsung spokeswoman says.

Samsung Move Won’t Affect Nokia

And there was no ‘Lumia Cab’ in Bangalore when Samsung rolled out a convoy of ‘Omnia W’ cabs for three days, she says, adding they were parked outside Samsung Smartphone Cafes.

“Ambush marketing rules apply if there are territorial rules that are applicable, as in the case of cricket World Cup… In the case of smartphones, all companies are aggressively trying to grow the category,” she says.


Samsung has emerged the most aggressive mobile handset maker over the past couple of years. It pipped Apple as the world’s top smartphone player during the July-September quarter last year and in India, GfK data suggests Samsung may have already overtaken Nokia as the largest smartphone vendor in value terms, thanks to the rising popularity of its Google Android phones led by the Galaxy range.

The marketing war in India has intensified after Nokia rolled out its first Windows-based smartphone, Lumia, last month. Samsung has started pushing its own Windows smartphone Omnia, launched more than a year ago, harder.

An email comparing Lumia 800 and Omnia W features and concluding ‘Why donate 9,000 extra to Nokia’ is in circulation. While Samsung denies any connection with the mail, Nokia says ambush marketing is not about deriding the other brand. “Ambush marketing, if done in a creative manner, appeals to the consumers,” says a Nokia spokesperson. “It’s not a crude attack on the rival.”

Some marketing experts believe Samsung is playing it smart. “Competition is all about being opportunistic and scoring a goal when the rival is least prepared. And that’s where Samsung has proved to be a better player,” says Saurabh Uboweja, director of brand consulting and design firm Brands of Desire.

Even if customers think Samsung played the smart Alec, it won’t hurt the brand as the ambush creates the perception of a smart, witty and on-the-go brand, says Uboweja.

“It’s much like the customers today who don’t feel guilty about pulling a leg or playing a prank on their peers,” he adds.


Former advertising professional and chick lit writer Anuja Chauhan says focused ambushing is better than rapid-fire ambushing. “It makes more sense to keep it (ambush) more informative and publicise it,” says Chauhan, who came up with the ‘Nothing official about it’ tagline for Pepsi in 1996.

The aim of the ambush is to leverage the strength of the competitor. It has to be smart and not say derogatory things about the competitor, she says. An independent analyst says Samsung’s strategy won’t affect Nokia.

“Even in a war, ambush is the recourse of an upstart, and not of the ruler,” says the analyst, requesting anonymity. “At best, ambush can be a tactical move. But it won’t hurt Nokia.”

YLR Moorthi, professor (marketing), IIM-Bangalore, says ambush marketing somehow speaks of a company not confident of holding out in the open. “Samsung is a challenger in the mobile market in India. So, they might be seeking out opportunities to hurt Nokia,” he says.

And it has managed to bridge the gap with Nokia considerably in the smartphone segment, which accounts for some 8% of the 213-million Indian handset market. According to latest IDC figures, Nokia accounted for 35.3% of all smartphone shipments in the country during the July-September quarter last year, followed by Samsung at 26%.

In the overall mobile phone market, the market shares are 31.8% and 17.5%, respectively, for Nokia and Samsung. Deepak Kumar, research director (telecommunications & mobile phones) at IDC India, says the smartphone landscape in India will remain fluid for the next couple of quarters.

“The picture would start becoming clear in the second half of 2012, when the various operating system platforms would have mostly unfolded their plays across a variety of hardware,” says Kumar.


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About Prashant Tiwari

Microsoft Student Partner India

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