Response to Imani’s post: “Samsung’s Mass Culture Critique”

Disclaimer: I’m an iPhone user. I love my iPhone and will continue with the least amount of bias possible

Bernbach’s ads challenged the brand to consider that their consumers are smart and I really appreciate that you found that connection between Bernbach’s strategy and this Samsung Galaxy commercial. It not only addresses them, Samsung users, with less “puffery” and as intelligent consumers but it also depicts them in the ad as just smart smartphone users. However as Bernbach’s strategy with Volkswagen was to separate them from mass culture, I think as Samsung parodies smart phone culture it plays more into the mass culture. It can’t separate itself.

The ad relies heavily on a “referent system” (Goldman and Papson, 88). Although it positions itself as the alternative, the better alternative (sure…), it can only exist in the realm of smart phone culture. The other phone that people are waiting in line for, which they never refer to as the iPhone but is obviously so because of “media-referential domain” of the commercial’s setting, is used as negative signifier in the ad. The commercial  “practice[s] counterpositioning, [the] sign value or [the] sign identity is established by sharply contrasting it with what it is not.” (89) Samsung can’t exist in this commercial without the contrast, without the contrast of the other phone. As Bernbach ironically calls out crazed consumption, the Samsung Galaxy gains its meaning through that crazed consumption, the smart phone cult mentality. Samsung users aren’t individuals as much as they are the “other.” While they say they are better than the “the other phone,” they position themselves to be the other to that first other phone. They are just another clique in the smart phone market.

However, I think where the ad subtly separates itself is during its critique on Generation X. The young consumers who wait in line for 14+ hours are apart of Generation X, the generation who “defin[es] self in terms of consumption” (Leiss 483). They are young, focused on inane details like where the headphone jack will be…but the supposedly non-crazed consumers, the Samsung users are also Generation X. They are young and knowledgably about consumerism. However, during the commercial where one of the Samsung user’s who is in line saving his spot for ‘someone’ gets up, we realize it was a spot for his parents. This subtle way of contrasting old vs. new, how Samsung technology will always be newer I think is much smarter way to contrast the two technologies and position themselves as a better alternative. It also comments on the uniqueness of their consumers in Generation X. They are staying young and in the know while older generations, his parents, are invading the supposedly cool technology of the phone all the other members of his generation are waiting for. Samsung is special, not just an alternative.   

I thought the commercial was rather petty because of the cockiness of the Samsung consumers. As you point out, Samsung users already know how great and ahead their technology is, so as much as the ad celebrated its current users, the other portion of its audience, non users, were just exposed to the “oh, wait you don’t have that…” At least for me, it didn’t create jealousy or a need for Samsung Galaxy like it might have been aiming for. I think they were the jabs at the inequities were too obvious to actually be treating the audience, nonusers as well, as intelligent.

I started with a disclaimer and here’s a confession: I waited in-line for my iPhone…