Emails from Apple exec show worry over Samsung ads

In emails presented during a California patent case, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller expresses frustration with his company's advertising efforts and notes that Samsung's ads seem to be "in the zone."

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
4 min read

Apple Samsung ruling

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Samsung has helped make a name for itself with cheeky, edgy commercials, which sometimes prompt a smirk at the expense of chief rival Apple. While Samsung was gaining this momentum, its sales chops certainly got the attention of Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller.

"We have a lot of work to do to turn this around," Schiller wrote in an email to James Vincent at Media Arts Laboratories, Apple's ad agency since 1997. The email linked to a January 2013 article from The Wall Street Journal headlined, "Has Apple Lost its Cool to Samsung?" The article specifically cites "marketing savvy" as one of the factors giving Samsung a boost.

The email was just one of the documents presented in court Friday, the third day of this latest installment of a long-running legal saga between Samsung and Apple over alleged patent infringement.

The spat began in 2011, when Apple sued Samsung, claiming the Korean handset maker had ripped off the look and feel of the iPhone for its own smartphone designs. Samsung countersued. A trial in August 2012 and a damages retrial in November 2013 both favored Apple. So far, Samsung has been ordered to pay Apple nearly $1 billion in damages, though those trials are still on appeal.

The new trial, which began earlier this week, involves seven patents. Apple claims Samsung infringed on five patents, including technology that lets users click links in a message to trigger handy actions -- clicking a telephone number places a call, for instance, or clicking an address calls up a maps app that's zeroed in on that location. Samsung claims Apple ripped off two patents, including one that involves technology that speeds up the data transmission process (and that could have implications for Apple's FaceTime video-chat feature).

Marketing played a big role in each company's defense during the early part of this trial. On Tuesday, Apple evoked the seminal nature of the iPhone launch event in 2007 and stressed the risk and concerns leading up to it. Samsung emphasized its own marketing, touting the edginess of its "Next big thing" ad campaign as a major factor in the success of its smartphone sales.

Those themes continued Friday, with Samsung's defense emphasizing what it saw as Schiller's frustration with Apple's marketing effort.

Another email, presented during Schiller's cross-examination Friday, revealed that after watching one Samsung pre-Super Bowl ad, Schiller commented in an email to Vincent: "It's pretty good and I cant help but think 'these guys are feeling it' (like an athlete who can't miss because they are in the zone) while we struggle to nail a compelling brief on iPhone...Something drastic has to change. Fast."

One possible solution was to invest in social media monitoring, an idea suggested to Schiller by Arthur Rangel, a senior marketing director at Apple. In an email, Rangel told Schiller that Apple could see if Samsung's advertising correlated with buzz about Samsung's products, and take note of what specific parts of the message resonated.

Schiller scoffed at the idea. He responded, "I think paying money for social media tracking tools is nuts...i think the guys at samsung sat around a coffee table watching Twitter and Facebook feeds and didn't need to pay for anything in [your] example."

Schiller -- or at least someone else in charge of making the decision -- apparently changed his tune. Later on that year, it was reported that Apple had acquired social media analytics firm Topsy for a rumored $200 million. While it's unclear what exactly Apple plans to do with the company, Topsy's service allows a user to measure the reach of a campaign.

According to yet another email, Schiller asked Apple CEO Tim Cook whether it was time to look for a new ad agency. (Media Arts Labs remains the company's agency.)

Still, Samsung pointed out that in 2013, Apple launched a campaign called "Designed by Apple in California," its first branded ad campaign since 1997, when the company teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.

For his part, Schiller tried to dispel Samsung's argument. He said that after Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs died in 2011, Schiller stepped up to head the company's advertising efforts, having previously been only a member of the team. His frustration had to do with the overall effort, he said, not any particular commercial. As for his reaction to The Wall Street Journal article, what he wanted to "turn around," he said, was not the marketing situation, but "the reporter's slanted view."

Updated, 3:09 p.m. PT: Adds more detail based on additional emails presented in court.