Samsung The Network

Blurring the line between ads and media like never before

Let's say you buy several million dollars' worth of Internet advertising. Let's say you long ago staked out prime property, like page-topping banners on the home page of (TWX ). Let's say you have such space on more than 400 sites.

This being the Web, these ads are neither static nor one-way. They can link to other sites, should consumers be given a good reason to click. It occurs to you: This is a network in and of itself. You can use your collective ad buy to leverage partnerships with other marketers. You have essentially blurred the line between advertiser and medium.

Such is the story with consumer-electronics darling Samsung. Its ads not only promote its own wares but also sometimes other big mainstream entertainment products, be it Fantastic Four or releases from Jon Bon Jovi and The Who. "Hi, Hollywood. You would like to reach 175 million people in 30 days?" deadpans Peter Weedfald, Samsung's senior vice-president for consumer electronics and North American marketing. "We can do it."

There are many arrows in Weedfald's quiver -- all that choice Web real estate, Samsung products' natural fit with entertainment, musicians' need to promote themselves independently of labels' efforts, and his own ultra-audacious, buzzword-studded selling style. With them all, Weedfald is proving there's life left yet in the lowly Web banner ad, and in the tattered mass-marketing model itself.

INTERNET SPENDING by Samsung Electronics -- that is, its consumer unit -- tripled between 2001 and 2004, to $11.5 million. It accounted for slightly more than 14% of its measured media spending for the first half of 2005. Samsung also boosted its advertising on network TV and in magazines, but it has, perhaps unwittingly, created competition for traditional media by becoming something of an ad vehicle itself. "Let us be your advertising, marketing, publishing, creative" partner, says Weedfald, warming to an imaginary audience. "We get to burnish Samsung by standing next to Jon Bon Jovi. He gets a vast distribution network."

Using ads as a distribution mechanism is a byproduct of the bigger game for Weedfald. As a mass marketer with myriad product lines, Samsung seeks ubiquity and repetition. (Googling some of Weedfald's pet phrases -- "the ADD economy," the Internet being "Darwin on speed" -- aptly proves that he practices what he preaches regarding repetition.) Weedfald, a former tech-magazine executive, loves publishing metaphors. "I want Jon Bon Jovi. I believe in his audience -- his circulation -- and what he stands for," he says. "The unique editorial is his music, and his genius around the music." (You were warned about his selling style.) What is a network without content?

A full-court promotional press for Fox's Fantastic Four last summer involved Net and traditional media ads and in-store displays at Best Buy. Actual money that changed hands between Samsung and the studio: zero, as Samsung traded off its Net bona fides for multiple product placements in the film. "Samsung's Internet reach is so pervasive," says Lisa Licht, Fox's senior vice-president for global marketing partnerships. "Think where moviegoers are: They're on the Internet for a significant portion of the day." Samsung (NWS ) just announced a deal with The Who in which buyers of certain Samsung systems get free Who DVDs -- a deal promoted, of course, by its Web presence. Last year, Samsung sponsored a Webcast of a Bon Jovi concert, framed by what looked like a Samsung TV, and grabbed 125,000 viewers, 87% of whom stuck around for the nearly two-hour show.

Uncomfortable as it may make media executives who might once have aired a Bon Jovi concert themselves, it likely didn't hit Web users that they were watching another turret crumble on the advertiser-media wall. The old New Yorker cartoon tells us that on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog. The Samsung corollary is: On the Web, no one knows you're not a medium. Even if you act like one.

By Jon Fine

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