Samsung disses Apple, Groupon whiffs it: Notable tech ads of the 2010s

The tech commercials of the last 10 years ran the gamut from mean-spirited to truly artistic to completely clueless. Let's roll the clips.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
8 min read

Tech has become a center of our lives. More than half the world's online population uses Facebook , Apple has sold more than a billion iPhones , and gadgets usually rule the top of holiday shopping lists.


Which is why it's no surprise that tech companies have produced some of the most memorable ads over the past decade. 

They may not be as memorable as the industry's commercials from the 2000s, when "Dude, you're getting a Dell " was drilled into our heads, along with Verizon's "Can you hear me now?" tagline. And Apple's iPod dancers and Get a Mac (and not a PC) campaigns were among the most popular commercials on TV.

But the 2010s still delivered some noteworthy TV spots, though we probably skipped over them thanks to our DVRs (or because we cut the cord completely).

Here are the most notable tech commercials of the 2010s, in no specific order.

Samsung 'The Next Big Thing'


Call it genius or call it brazen, but in November, just a month after Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died and the iPhone 4S was launched, Samsung released a new ad called "The Next Big Thing." The ad, which turned into a series that went on for years, depicted Apple fans questioning their faith as they stood in line to buy the newest iPhone. 

"If it looks the same, how will people know I upgraded?" one supposed Apple fan says. "Uh oh, they're saying the battery is sketchy," says another while reading on his phone.

Then, someone with a Samsung device shows up, and the line-dwellers compare, noting how much larger the screen is and how much faster its internet speeds are. "This phone is amazing," the Samsung owner says.

The marketing blitz, which amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars in its first two years alone, was part of Samsung's plan to cement itself not just as a TV brand in the US but as a tech behemoth with big Galaxy phone dreams. 

"Beating Apple is no longer merely an objective," Dale Sohn, the former CEO of Samsung's US mobile business, wrote in an internal document from 2012. "It is our survival strategy. We must take consumers back from them and generate the type of brand loyalty that Apple currently enjoys."

The tactics worked, and helped turn Samsung into Apple's biggest phone rival. But the effort also drew Apple's ire, causing the tech company to launch a series of lawsuits against Samsung starting in 2011. The suits continued until 2018, when Apple and Samsung finally settled their dispute, with the ultimate settlement figures remaining private.

Motorola takes a swipe at the iPad


Apple released the original iPad in April 2010, its first big new product launch after the iPhone. Other companies were quick to follow with their own tablets, including Motorola, which announced its Xoom at CES in January 2011. 

But during the holiday shopping season just before, Motorola posted a video to YouTube called "Tablet Evolution," to build hype for its as-yet unannounced device. The video takes us through a museum, where we start with an Egyptian hieroglyphic tablet. "Good graphics, but weight makes for difficult portability," Motorola's on-screen narration said. Then the Ten Commandments: "Excellent durability, but zero flexibility (can't edit)." When it got to the iPad, Motorola noted, "It's like a giant iPhone, but... it's like a giant iPhone."

The video ended with a Motorola device under a cloth, waiting to be revealed. The ad racked up more than 1.6 million views, and the Xoom earned CNET's Best of Show award. The device didn't ultimately succeed, though.

Spike Jonze's dance for the Apple HomePod 


Apple was up against some serious competition when it was preparing to launch its HomePod speaker in 2018. Amazon's Echo devices, powered by its Alexa smart assistant, were a cultural phenomenon. Google had already begun its efforts to bring its own assistant, powering its Home series of devices, to market as well. The tech industry was already going gaga for all this stuff.

In came Apple's HomePod, offering what the company said was superior sound and the promise of using Siri in your home. To sell its gadget, Apple hired director Spike Jonze, who'd previously helmed Her. The Oscar-nominated feature told the tale of a heartbroken man who falls in love with an understanding, female-voiced operating system. In Jonze's HomePod ad, called Welcome Home, an exhausted urban commuter collapses into her apartment and enlists Siri to queue up a tune. Much dancing ensues, the apartment becomes a shape-shifting wonderland, and our city dweller's soul is revitalized.

CNET's reviewers agreed the sound quality was better, and the speaker was easy to set up, but Apple's Siri didn't do as much as Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant. "Siri is still behind Alexa and Google Assistant. Apple's voice AI can't tell jokes, play games or turn on an Apple TV -- or your favorite Netflix show," CNET's Megan Wollerton wrote. "And forget about using it with Android devices."

Tesla and SpaceX's Starman


Every car company wants you to believe its products are the best for traveling the world. But Tesla decided to take that one step further in February 2018, when it blasted Elon Musk's personal Tesla roadster into space -- to the tune of David Bowie's Space Oddity, no less.

The result was an iconic image of a mannequin in a space suit, called Starman, sitting in the roadster as it orbited Earth.

It may not have been the cheapest advertising trick in history, but it sure got everyone's attention. There's even a website, Where is Roadster?, where you can track it in real time. 

Groupon whiffs in the Super Bowl


A Super Bowl ad is a rite of passage for big companies. It's a time for them to say, "Hey, we've got millions of dollars to spend on an ad, and we want to have a lot of fun doing it."

Unfortunately for Groupon, its big spend didn't go well. The ad appeared to show that its popular deals-focused site, a massive success during the US recession a decade ago, could introduce people to new experiences... and help those in need too?

It's hard to tell.

Consider the 30 second ad, which spends 12 seconds talking about how the Tibetan people and their culture are in danger of extinction. But then the narrator excitedly shares how he and a couple of hundred other people bought a Groupon for $30 worth of food for $15 at a Himalayan restaurant in Chicago. The ad's tagline, "Save the money."

There was quick outcry, with people criticizing the company's cultural insensitivity. To add insult to injury, The New York Times noted the mountain depicted in the ad wasn't even in Tibet.

Groupon's then-CEO, Andrew Mason, posted an unusually nonapologetic blog post in response.

"To those who were offended, I feel terrible that we made you feel bad. While we've always been a little quirky, we certainly aren't trying to be the kind of company that builds its brand on creating controversy--we think the quality of our product is a much stronger message," he wrote. "We've listened to your feedback, and since we don't see the point in continuing to anger people, we're pulling the ads."

Groupon's troubles didn't end there. A year later, CNBC named Mason the worst CEO of 2012, and in 2013 Mason posted a tweet, sharing an email to staff that he had been fired.

"After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family," he wrote. "Just kidding -- I was fired today. If you're wondering why ... you haven't been paying attention."

Esurance jokes on Facebook


When Facebook launched in 2004, it was only for students at Harvard University, and then students at other schools around the country. A decade later, Facebook had 1.3 billion people using its service each month -- including many of our parents.

Which is why Esurance, an insurance company owned by Allstate, made many of us laugh with its ad about an elderly "offline oversharer" named Beatrice. 

"Instead of mailing everyone my vacation photos, I'm saving a ton of time by posting them to my wall," she starts. Except, it's not her Facebook, it's just a wall in her home.

The Facebook gags continued. "Ooh, I like that one!" said a friend. 

Then when one of Beatrice's friends says she saved more with her car insurance, Beatrice snaps at her, "I unfriend you."

"That's not how it works!" the friend said. "That's not how any of this works!"

These days, she probably would've ended it saying, "OK, Boomer."

Amazon's Alexa takes on the Super Bowl


As Alexa smart speakers began showing up in people's homes, Amazon decided it was time to give the devices a little push. It hired celebrities like actor Alec Baldwin, NFL star Dan Marino and musician Missy Elliot for its first-ever Super Bowl commercial in 2016.

Three years later, Alexa was such a cultural phenom that Amazon was making jokes about how ubiquitous its technology was, even being put into an actual $60 microwave. So the company invented fake Alexa products, like an Alexa-powered toothbrush, dog collar and hot water tub, as part of its gag for the 2019 Super Bowl.

Verizon's 'Can you hear me now?' guy joins Sprint


Verizon's ubiquitous "Test Man" character from its commercials, who walked around for a decade saying, "Can you hear me now?" switched sides in 2016. Actor Paul Marcarelli joined Sprint in June, during Game 2 of the NBA Finals

Sprint didn't have Marcarelli revive his old character, but instead touted him as an actual customer. Sprint even aired an ad later that year, featuring Marcarelli and his husband.

Facebook's mea culpa


This may not be among the best, but it's certainly notable. Facebook, reeling from revelations of corporate malfeasance and mishandling of personal information in a scandal linked to UK political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, released an ad called "Here Together" to respond.

The rare commercial from the company, which debuted in April 2018 during the heavily watched NBA playoffs, was meant as an earnest apology.

"We came here for the friends," it starts. "But then something happened -- we had to deal with spam, clickbait and data misuse. That's going to change."

"From now, Facebook will do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy, so we can all get back to what Facebook was built for in the first place: Friends."

A year and a half later, Facebook is still mired in controversy.