Samsung or Trump: Which brand is in bigger trouble?

Technically Incorrect: Both currently have their challenges. Which one, though, will come through best?

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

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Notable brand trouble?

Sarah Tew/CNET

When the mighty fall, they don't always know how to react.

After all, they're mighty. Falling is for lesser sorts.

Yet the last couple of weeks have seen two famous brands fall into disrepute by their own hands.

Careless hands, small hands.

Samsung has managed to make a mess of the Galaxy Note 7 launch. Not once, but twice.

Not only is the phone smoldering and grave-bound, but so is the Note brand.

Even the Samsung brand, recently carrying with it a challenger's sense of style, has been tainted.

Part of the problem has been Samsung's response. Or, as it seemed for a long time, lack of response.

It didn't immediately involve the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It was as if it thought the ashes of its smoldering Notes could be swept under a rug.

Only on Thursday morning did Samsung launch a concerted communication effort. The company promised to finally contact consumers individually, which seems lamely late. The first Note 7 exploded weeks ago.

Just as all this has been happening, the Trump brand -- for all Donald Trump's smoldering (he thinks so at least) good looks -- appears to be troubled.

Obituaries are suddenly being written for his campaign and his brand. It's odd that his brand survived his tirades against Mexicans, women, Muslims, disabled people and so many other constituencies for so long.

Only now, after a tape emerged of him saying that, as a star, he was free to grab women by their genitals and after multiple women came forward to accuse him of various levels of sexual impropriety, are fellow Republicans shunning him.

But what about his business?

Tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban tweeted last week: "Every single @realdonaldtrump hotel and golf course is toast. Done. Over. Bernie Madoff now has a better brand."

Is that true?

There's one essential difference between Samsung's current plight and Trump's: Samsung's debacle is out of character. Trump's is totally Trump.

Many consumers seem stunned that a company with an excellent reputation would not only sell defective and dangerous products, but then also react as if this wasn't the large-scale problem it's turned out to be. Worse, Samsung promised the replacement phones were safe, which proved not to be true.

How many people are truly surprised that Donald Trump is Donald Trump?

Many people are saying that Trump, a slight-of-hand marketer if ever there was one, intends to set up a media conglomerate as soon as the election is over.

Unlike Samsung's, his audience isn't moved negatively by any of his antics, pronouncements, peccadilloes or faux-pas. They rally around him for a strong emotional reason: anger. Unlike so many career politicians, he's happy to articulate it.

He gives it a coarse, hoarse voice, an orange mane and a reddened face.

Samsung, on the other hand, may have miscalculated the feelings of its customers. It thought that if it played the problem down, the whole thing would go away. Instead, it exploded and trust was eroded.

Yes, many Samsung customers insist they'll hang on to their Note 7s anyway. It's a very good phone. Many more, however, will now be suspicious not just of these phones, but of the Samsung brand, one that's proved so reliable when it comes to TVs, domestic appliances and many other areas.

The doubts and the jokes will linger.

The Trump brand has always enjoyed doubts and jokes.

Equally, it's always appealed to human aspects: loudness, straight talk, self-regard and bluster. This hasn't changed.

Even if his hotels and golf courses go bankrupt, this will be nothing new for the brand. Trump is no stranger to things going under. He just doesn't go under with them.

After the election is done and the debris is sifted through, the Trump name will immediately be attached to a new, shiny thing: The Angry White Man Network.

For Samsung, on the other hand, the road is a little longer and bereft of convenient pivots.

Trump won't have to change. He'll carry on just the way he is, blaming his critics, bathing in conspiracy theories and basking in the adulation of those whose feelings he articulates.

Samsung has nowhere to hide. It has to restore faith, project truth and recreate excitement, at a time when Google is launching Android phones that pose a clear long-term threat.

Samsung has to do the work. And there's a lot of it to be done.

Trump just has to keep talking. For him, that takes no effort at all.