The Best (and Worst) Smartphone Ads Of 2018

LG Zombie Ad 02

Whether you buy this smartphone or that one doesn’t always come down to the actual smartphone. At least, not completely as the companies who manage to hit the right notes with marketing can attract new customers in spite of the product being not quite as good it should be. At the very least, strong marketing messages provide the opportunity for companies to build brand awareness so that although you didn’t buy their product this time, when next year’s version rolls around you’ll be more familiar with the brand and may even decide to pay their newest product closer attention. The opposite is just as true, as companies can sometimes be very off with their marketing messages and this can result in the opposite effect where it deters not just potential buyers, buy also existing ones as well. So finding the right balance while having a clear message is a lot harder to do than most people might think.

Good or bad aside, marketing messages can often tell consumers much more than just what the company is trying to say. After all, in most cases marketing messages are usually tailored towards a certain buyer or purpose. That buyer is often what’s considered the current market for a product, while in some cases it might be a new type of customer the company hopes to attract. Therefore, when you take a closer look at some of the marketing materials for companies, you often not only see the message they want to portray, but also aspects that either highlight who they think their current clientele is, or who they want it to be in the future, and in some very specific cases, the problems the companies are facing at a particular time. All of this is what we’re taking a closer look at by highlighting some of the promotional videos the biggest names in the smartphone business have released in 2018. In truth, the list of videos below is only a fraction of what was released by these companies this year, but they are the ones we felt best represented each company’s goals and ambitions, or for better or worse – their situation in 2018.

Samsung – feeling the pressure


Samsung is unarguably the go-to smartphone-brand for Android and that means its marketing message and game needs to be strong. In 2018, however, it wasn’t quite as strong as it could have been and in many ways that’s symbolic of the company this year with sales that are good, but not necessarily Samsung-worthy. One of the reasons for its lack of smartphone sales in 2018 was the stiffer competition the company faced and that proved evident in terms of marketing with Samsung opting to focus its promotional efforts more on select features and presumably as a way to highlight what makes its phones better than the rest. This year also seemed to be a far more targeted affair with Samsung actively highlighting exactly the type of consumers it is now aiming its Galaxy S and Note lines at.

When it comes to the Galaxy S9, much of the best marketing videos came in the form of camera-focused content. Although this in itself fed back into a wider ‘make it yours’ message the company was trying to convey. Of the camera-focused videos released by Samsung our favorite was “Jet Lag” as without explicitly saying it the video did a good job of highlighting specific camera benefits of the Galaxy S line. For example, although the message said lack of sleep and jet lag, the actual message was low-light photography.

The Galaxy Note9 was marketed entirely different to the Galaxy S9 line which is understandable considering Samsung probably did not want to distract target buyers of one line with the other. So instead, Samsung had to look for another angle (beyond the now-known Note9 multitasking and stylus benefits, as well as minimally infringing on the camera features promoting the Galaxy S line) and it seems the company settled on gaming. So not only was Samsung keen to highlight the gaming benefits related to the performance of the Note9, as well as the display resolution and size, but also the Fortnite exclusivity the Galaxy Note9 temporarily had. This particular marketing message subconsciously goes beyond the overt gaming message and looks to tap into the youth market in general.



Of course, it wouldn’t be Samsung if there was also not the obligatory anti-Apple ad as well



Google Pixelstill chasing the sales

One of the biggest hurdles Google faces, and one of the criticisms most often leveled at the company’s Pixel phone line is sales. Although the company rightly deserves much of that criticism as it continues to offer few ways for consumers to purchase its phones due to what seems to be a never-ending Verizon-favored partnership. Either way, the sales and ‘switching’ issue facing Google has not been lost on the marketing department. As in spite of Google initially launching various videos to highlight the various camera features on offer with the Pixel 3, the company recently embarked on an “Unswitchables” campaign which looks to help those who might be struggling with making the switch away from their current phone. These marketing videos are a bit much and verge on being as cheesy as the various makeover/dating shows you can find on TV any day of the week. Google’s message might have been more effectively delivered if it had taken more of a humorous or parody approach to this style of ‘make the change’ marketing, instead of going down the serious route it has while focusing on those who are either too busy, too much in love, too chilled (whatever that means), or simply too anxious to try switching to the company’s Pixel 3 line. If you like drawn out, over-the-top, complete with delayed reveal moments (even though you know they are all going to switch), then these videos are for you. For everyone else, move along as there’s nothing to see here.



HTClast to leave please turn off the lights

Erm, much like HTC’s smartphone ambitions in general, we are not quite sure what to make of HTC’s marketing message. It’s either largely absent at the video level or it is so next-level that we haven’t quite figured it out yer. Of course, if the former is true, then it is unlikely to be that surprising as HTC has been on somewhat of a cost-cutting exercise lately, and by the looks of it, the marketing department was at the front of that chopping block. You will find some videos if you look hard enough and they do adopt some marketing tactics, but not much to really comment on as successful marketing. In fairness, however, there’s also not much (beyond the lack of trying) to really call HTC out on. The video below for example is the launch video for the HTC U12+ and while it adopts what might be best thought of as a more Modernism slant, it doesn’t really say much. It just is what it is. See for yourself.

Sonybuy or don’t buy, Sony’s too cool to care


Sony is another interesting company as it seems to do well enough in other areas to not really care so much that’s not doing as well as it could in the smartphone market. A message that comes through quite loudly in its marketing as unlike its PlayStation ads which immerse the user in the experience, the mobile marketing message for Sony is far more muted. Pretty much all of the company’s promo videos in 2018 were basic with Sony simply saying “here’s our new phone, this is what it can do.” Surprisingly, this was even the case for the videos released in Japan where you might expect the company to do more considering its greater smartphone presence in that market. But that was not the case. Production-wise they were fine, but take that away and you are not left with much beyond the specs and features of the phone.


On the occasions where it did try to push the boat a little, the marketing message was all wrong. For example, in the summer Sony tried to capitalize on World Cup 2018 fever with a promotional video focused on football (soccer) skills. The video itself never showed the phone and instead was designed to highlight all the footage in the video was captured using an Xperia XZ2. The only problem was, the football skills took the focus off the quality of the captured images and video. To the point where it was more of an advert for football than anything else.


Motosit back, relax, life’s just a party

Motorola or more simply, moto has always has a fairly clear marketing message. Well, at least very clear marketing traits, as the modern version of the company likes to use color a lot (which correlates with the varied color options it offers with its smartphones), as well as also people in the collective sense. The two together are best articulated as moto ads often having a ‘party’ feel about them. This was also true in 2018 with our pick of the best moto video going to one for the moto G6 plus. With this video, the clear party element is in attendance, as is a high use of color and people. However, what sets this ad apart is the emphasis on the G6 phone being central to the party. In fact, the phone is the only element that’s alive in the video with everything else, although colorful, appearing flat and lifeless – a very good example of juxtaposition. This theme, along with the banging soundtrack really helps to draw attention to the smartphone, and by association the very selling points moto wants to get across. This is only one of a few of the same videos released by the company this year, but the one we thought got the marketing messages across the best.



OnePlussaving the environment with its continued recycling efforts

OnePlus is often accused of recycling ideas after releasing a number of smartphones that not only draw inspiration from Apple’s iPhone line, but also devices released by OPPO during the same year. It would seem when it comes to marketing, the notion of recycling is also fairly prevalent as for the OnePlus 6 the company released a marketing video aimed at students which seemed to directly take inspiration from an almost identical video released the year before for the OnePlus 5. What’s more, with both of these videos being a year apart and both targeted specifically at students, it does highlight that OnePlus is somewhat clear on where one of its main demographics resides, and this makes sense from an outside perspective. As the OnePlus line is designed to offer a comparable experience to other flagships but at a more affordable price – so thinking of OnePlus phones as ‘student phones’ is probably fairly apt. It’s just strange for the company to be so blatant about it in its advertising.

Recycled from 2017

BlackBerrystill fighting the past

BlackBerry Mobile’s marketing message is far clearer and fundamental compared to some of the others, and in some ironic ways represents the strength of its marketing message from yesteryear. As the BlackBerry name is so iconic that everyone already sort of knows what a BlackBerry is, does, offers. The issue with this greater brand awareness is that the same people also now know the BlackBerry of old is no longer relevant with the latest Android and iOS devices having become the go-to for many buyers. Therefore, the marketing message that was in abundance with the launch materials for the company’s 2018 KEY2 smartphone was not only that BlackBerry is still alive, but it now runs on Android. So you can still have the BlackBerry you used to love but also have access to the Android apps you now love. In short, BlackBerry Mobile smartphones are for 2018 as much as they were for 2008.

Huaweimarketing better than its relations with the US

Huawei has had a very strange year in 2018. On the one hand it has seen its route to the US market become much longer and thinner than ever before through pressures exerted on the company by US agencies. A problem that seems to have gotten all the worse since its CFO was arrested in Canada and now faces extradition to the US. On the other hand, and in spite of US sales channels drying up even more than before, the company has managed to sell a lot of phones elsewhere. Enough to propel the company to the dizzy heights of the smartphone sales hierarchy, second only to Samsung. So while it’s been somewhat of a confusing year for Huawei on paper, its marketing messages have been a lot cleaner, clearer, and at times downright inspiring. For one thing, Huawei has focused heavily on the performance areas of its phones and very clearly articulates a “higher” message for its Mate 20 line. This message not only directly comes through in its “a higher intelligence” tagline, but also in visual form with the use of height playing a central role in some of the commercials used for its phones. Representing an excellent level of consistency between the actual product, the message said, and the message seen.


Huawei has also played on the innovation theme, and this is in addition to, and arguably a little at odds with some of the accusations that have been leveled at the company lately, a considerably focus on the importance of being responsible. That’s not just at the maker level, but also at the user level, and this was best seen this year with its “GnuGnu” video which serves as a good reminder that there are more important things in life than the 15 minutes of fame often found on Instagram, Twitter, and the rest. Unlike some of the other marketing materials, the company’s GnuGnu video wasn’t released everywhere, but it’s worth everyone seeing – here’s the version that was released in Germany to promote the company’s P smart+ smartphone.


LGit may as well be the end of the world for LG mobile

When it comes to 2018 smartphone marketing and advertising, LG  hands-down takes the title for our favorite video. Like many of the other companies on this list, LG has released a number of different marketing videos (almost as many as the number of phones LG has released in 2018) but where LG went above and beyond was with its LG V40 “zombie” ad. This represented the perfect blend of advertising traits by being topically on point (not only did it come out during The Walking Dead’s latest season, but during Rick’s last season), utilizing the same themes often employed by many in advertising (family, friends, love), adopting a novel way that grabs the viewer’s attention, and LG did all this while still managing to keep the main selling point (the cameras) of the device in focus. Of course, the use of You Sexy Thing by Hot Chocolate just further adds to the playful nature of the promo, making it all that more appealing. All-in-all, this is a great ad and executed to near perfection, although whether it actually helps LG to sell any phones remains to be seen. The irony of this promotional video is also worth attention, considering this is a brand whose smartphone sales have largely flatlined and has drawn on the undead to help resurrect its mobile business. Intentional or not, levels.


Wrap up

Marketing matters and whether companies mean to say what they do at times, the choice of marketing often speaks volumes about a company. On the one hand you have the likes of HTC and Sony who seem to care very little about driving home their messages while at the same time expecting you to buy their smartphones. Then you have the likes of OnePlus who is trying to sell consumers the same message(s) the company sold last year – bit like its phones in general, or Google who is trying hard not to offend anyone and include everyone when it needs to be targeting buyers. Elsewhere you have Samsung who seems to be attempting to take a higher road and not focus in on its competition other than Apple, even though Apple is no longer its main competitor. This is a big misstep by Samsung as it will find itself falling harder and quicker if it does not take a more realistic approach to its marketing by realizing it’s no longer the only Android name that matters – that Apple buyers are no longer the buyers it needs to win over. Then there’s Huawei, LG and Moto who while all experiencing their own and unique issues at the moment are doing the best when it comes to marketing. Which neatly highlights the need for marketing as it would seem the companies who need change are investing more thought and creativity in their marketing efforts while those who don’t think they have to (Samsung and OnePlus) or don’t want to (HTC and Sony) opt for mediocrity. While it remains unclear whether the increased marketing efforts will help Huawei, LG and Moto overcome their obstacles, it’s clear the lack of, or reduced marketing efforts from the others won’t help. With 2019 set to be a different year to previous ones due to aspects like the emergence of 5G, it will be interesting to see how these companies approach advertising and marketing over the next 12 months.