Samsung marketing head explains the role advertising played in helping brand recover from Note 7 crisis

Samsung's Pio Schunker speaking at the ANA's Masters of Marketing conference / Credit: Clarion Pictures

Pio Schunker, Samsung’s head of global brand marketing for its mobile division, took to the stage at the ANA’s Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando to discuss the role that marketing played in helping the company bounce back from its Note 7 catastrophe.

In September of last year, Samsung recalled 2.5 million of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones just weeks after they went on sale due to reports that the phones were catching fire and exploding. Samsung ultimately ceased production of the Galaxy Note 7 after replacement phones experienced the same issues, leaving the Seoul-based company with one of the largest brand crises in recent history on its hands — and no shortage of memes mocking the brand’s blunder.

During his talk, Schunker explained that Samsung had been in the midst of a rebrand of sorts when the crisis - which was ultimately blamed on battery problems - hit. He said that the company had been working to leave its stodgy image behind via ads that humanized the brand and connected with audiences on a global scale, citing the brand’s Rio 2016 Olympics spot - which featured sports fans and athletes from all over the world singing other countries’ national anthems - as an example of how it was working to reshape its perception around the world.

While he said that Samsung began to see signs of success from its refreshed marketing efforts, that all came to a halt when reports began to surface that the Note 7 phones were malfunctioning in no small way.

“Just when things were starting to go right, things went horribly wrong. Overnight, we were faced with our biggest challenge to date: a battery malfunction that threatened to permanently damage Samsung’s business and its reputation,” he said.

Schunker went on to defend the company’s handling of the situation, stating that it began to rebuild trust with consumers when it revealed the root cause of the explosions at a press conference in January and outlined “new and enhanced” safety measures to prevent future occurences.

“Slowly, over the next few months, we saw the company trust begin to recover and then begin to stabilize,” he said.

When creating marketing efforts for the launch of the Galaxy S8, which came just months after the Note 7 crisis, Schunker said that the “stakes were much higher” since the brand had to “recover and repair all the damage that had happened over the previous months.”

The company rolled out a number of ads ahead of the Galaxy S8 launch, including a heartwarming spot featuring a rendition of ‘Across the Universe’ and an off-the-wall video that featured an ostrich who attempts to take flight, the latter of which promoted the brand’s Gear VR headset. Schunker said that Samsung’s ads, which were part of a plan to rebuild the brand post-crisis, contributed to the sales success of the Galaxy S8.

To bring things full circle, Schunker also used the opportunity to plug the early success of the recently launched Note 8, which exceeded pre-order expectations. He closed his talk by telling the audience that Samsung was recently ranked number six on Interbrand’s ‘Best Global Brands 2017’ list with a brand value of $56.2 billion, up one position and nine percent respectively from last year.

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