Comparing the ads of Apple, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung

For many people, a TV ad is the only way a person will know of, or see, a particular product or service. In those 30 seconds, you’ve got to provide some information about what you’re selling or else what’s the point?

I get why TV ads need to be glossy, highly energised and, in some cases, quite gimmicky. For those 30-90 seconds or so, the ad is trying to compete for your attention, knowing that at any moment you could get up and walk away, or with the prevalence of DVRs, fast-forward and skip it entirely.

It’s a difficult task, entertain your audience whilst trying to sell them something. Some companies can do this really well whilst others fall flat. With that, how do ads from Apple and their competitors stack up? Lets find out.


This is probably the best iPhone ad they’ve created so far. It doesn’t just focus on how the iPhone can take great pictures but it opts for a third-person approach and shows you someone else taking pictures. Yet the iPhone is still the focus of the ad, you’re still seeing how the device works and how it’s being used.

Again, this ad focuses entirely on the device and the apps it runs. All of the apps, the interactions and the gestures are completely real. In fact, this isn’t even advertising the iPhone as much as the App Store, which runs on the iPhone.

This Siri ad from the iPhone 4S launch demonstrates how Siri can be used. Everything is real world usage, you see how Siri works and what it can do. I especially like the accessibility feature the ad shows at the end which uses a mixture of Siri and VoiceOver.

Have you spotted the common theme? All these ads demonstrate how the iPhone can be used using actual apps and scenarios. The focus is on what the device does, not what it is. No gimmicks, no mocking the competition, just the device and its features, front and centre.

This is something that Apple has been doing since they first launched the iPhone back in 2007. Here’s one of the first ads they did.

They’ve been using the same ad format for over 5 years until the more recent “Discover” ads. That’s a testament to just how good the ads were.


The infamous Microsoft Surface ad. The only feature we definitely get to see used is the kickstand. The rest of the ad makes no sense with all these high kicks and choreographed accountants. Whilst we see the smart keyboard cover attached, we’re not shown it in action. The same goes for the rest of the Surface and we get split-second glimpses of the start screen.

What’s more, as soon as the guy in the ad actually goes to start using it, Microsoft waves a proverbial middle finger and cuts the ad right at the point he’d start to use it.

We never see someone use it, nor do we see what it does. Actually, we’re not even told what it is.

Another Surface ad, this time for the Surface Pro. Unbelievably, this is even worse than the first one. All the same points from the first ad carry across to this one. But, since it’s the Surface Pro, we get to see spreadsheets in those split-seconds rather than the start screen. Touché, Microsoft.

It’s a very glossy, very slick ad with one minor flaw. What the hell is it advertising? In this one-minute ad we see about ten seconds in total of Internet Explorer’s actual user interface, all using some sort of Ken Burns-on-Ecstasy effect. The rest of the ad is completely nonsensical and unless you actually catch the Internet Explorer logo at the beginning or end of the ad, you’d probably think this was an ad for some premium vodka.

These three ads reek of arrogance. The surface ads provide nothing in the way of information about what a Surface is or what it does, and the Internet Explorer ad looks more like a music video, demonstrating absolutely nothing of the browser.


Well, the Lumia is certainly prevalent in the ads, yet all we see is the home screen and a flash of the contacts and music app. Besides scrolling, there’s absolutely no interaction with the device. Instead, we’re told by too-pretty-to-be-the-public (sorry) people how they use it. Again, some of Microsoft’s arrogance started to creep in as we’re expected to just accept that whatever these fine folks tell us.

I actually thought this one was quite funny as it does playfully make light of the fanboy war that will ultimately decimate our planet. But again, we see the device for only a few seconds and most of that is the rear of it as we listen to the two waiters quietly make their own snarky comments. The only glimpse we get of the front of the Lumia is the home screen being scrolled. We get it, Nokia. Your home screen scrolls.


I’d be willing to bet that a good chunk of sales of either the iPhone or Galaxy are from people switching. It’s not a good ad campaign when you spend half the time poking fun at many of your potential customers. It’d be like Toyota running an ad that just has two guys laughing at a woman struggling to parallel park, all while advertising parking sensors.

Ignoring the fact that the majority of the ad focuses on making fun of iPhone users waiting in line1, we see the Samsung Galaxy S3 for approximately 12 seconds in total… in an ad that is 90 seconds long. Samsung’s marketing strategy with this, and other ads, seems to be that they should spend more time poking fun at the competition than actually demonstrating what their great product is capable of.

We do “see” some of the features of the S3, such as contact beaming and the bigger screen, and by “see” I mean it appears they’re using those features but we don’t actually see it in action. It’s just like the Microsoft ads, we see a glimmer of a potential feature, only for it to be over as soon as it started.

Apart from the overly dramatic music choice, we still only see a few seconds of actual device usage throughout the entire ad. At least we do see how taking a picture works (and it even includes the picture-in-picture feature where both cameras are used) as well as how Air View works, even if it’s for only a few fleeting moments. After that, it may as well just be a static since the rest of the ad has the caption “Effect simulated” running throughout.

Samsung calls the Galaxy S4 a “Life companion”. But what is that, exactly? That’s explaining what it is, but not what it does. If it’s going to be a companion for me to use in daily life then show me how. As an ad, it’s your job to sell your product to me, not make me go to my computer and do the work for you.

As much as this ad is completely douchey, it’s much better than the rest of the ads Samsung has put out. It actually shows people using the features, such as wave-to-answer and the multi-shot camera. Both these features, however gimmicky you might think, are still pretty cool. They even demonstrate the S4’s connectivity to their Smart TVs.

Unfortunately, Samsung doesn’t wait for long to slide back into its humourless ways by poking fun at the older couple with the iPhone 5. I think that’s unwise, if older people are buying the iPhone then what does that say about it? It’s easy to use? It’s so desireable that even our parents are buying it? I’d say that, in itself, is a testament to just how popular the iPhone is. They can pretend to be one of the cool kids and make fun of the older iPhone users all they want, but it just gives the appearance that Samsung customers are young hipsters.

But I digress. Despite the popularity of the iPhone, Apple spent far, far less than Samsung on advertising in 2012, yet their ads prove extremely popular and show you the device in action to the point that you can see just how easy it is to use.

With Microsoft and Samsung, it shows a lack of confidence in their product. Rather than focus on their respective products and put them front and centre, they distract us with dance routines and failed attempts at humour. If they truly believed in their device then why not do what Apple does and focus just on how it works? Apple knows that the iPhone will sell itself but it’ll sell a lot more with ads that appeal to everyone, not just a certain crowd.

It’s odd that Samsung hasn’t adopted this already. Despite the various patent battles going on, it’s a popular belief that Samsung has indeed borrowed some ideas from Apple. If they want to borrow any more, they should borrow their ad format. I’d be genuinely interested to see a Galaxy S4 ad that follows the same formula as the iPhone ads already do. Show me just some of the core features and how they can be used and I’d definitely be more interested.

In the interests of impartiality, Apple hasn’t always run a mocking-free ad campaign…

  1. Does that mean Samsung thinks customers queueing up to give a company money is stupid?