Samsung recently faced a product quality fiasco which would give most marketers nightmares. Bury your head in the sand or tackle the issue head on?
Have you taken a flight recently? If so you will certainly have been told just before take-off that you can keep your mobile phone and other devices kept on, as long as they’re in flight mode. Well, unless of course you have a Samsung Galaxy Note7. If you are in possession of said handset, you may well have been asked to switch it off completely due to the safety concerns surrounding the device. How did the mobile phone market leader respond to this debacle and what does it tell us about how brands manage crisis communication?
Exploding phones on airplanes, large scale product recall, widespread criticism and mockery on social media…the Samsung Galaxy Note7 battery defect issue is unlikely to have passed many people by unnoticed. By September 2016, at least 35 cases of exploding phones on airplanes were reported and media attention had sky rocketed (and the number of exploding phone memes placed online with it).
Samsung’s response was swift and concrete. The South Korean tech giant issued a press release acknowledging that a fault in the battery design had led to the issue, and halted sales of the Note7 whilst also committing to replace all existing handsets. They issued full page articles in major newspapers describing the defect, apologising to consumers and reassuring on the actions being taken. An 8 step quality control procedure was put in place and communicated to the public, via articles, press releases and online videos.
The debate about what Samsung did next will likely go on for some time, with valid arguments from both sides. The brand produced 30 and 60 second television ads, grounded in the new quality control procedures, but in a much more overtly brand-equity driven way, including insisting on their Innovation credentials. For some, this went too far and was seen as an attempt to distract from the original issue. For others, it was an appropriate way to integrate their longer-term brand ideals into their short-term crisis communication strategy.
Either way, what is important is that Samsung was clearly seen to be reacting to and tackling the issue head on. At Kantar Millward Brown we know from our BrandZ database (the largest brand equity database in the world) that part of what makes a brand’s equity strong is a perceived sense of being Meaningful, and a large part of this is credibility. The way Samsung reacted can and will continue to be examined and scrutinised. But the most important thing is that they reacted in a clear and direct way, rather than just burying their head in the sand and hoping the issue would disappear.
With new hard-hitting campaigns (Unbox Your Phone for the release of the Samsung Galaxy S8, and #DoWhatYouCant for Samsung) the brand is clearly positioning itself as the market leader and looking confidently to the future after tackling a short-term blip head on.