Why Keeping the “Human Element” at the Heart of Marketing is Essential

Last week, Samsung took on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. However, instead of the company’s CEO dumping water over his head and pledging to donate, the Samsung Galaxy S5 received the icy bath and then challenged the iPhone 5S, HTC’s One M8 and the Lumia 930.

The ad has people crying foul. Many condemn the brand for taking advantage of a disease to sell products. Others say the ad is all in good fun. What it is truly lacking, though, is the human element.

Brands have been distancing themselves from the corporate images they once embraced. Instead, companies are looking to relate with consumers on a real, emotional level by emphasizing community and storytelling in marketing materials.

“It all comes as part of a movement on behalf of many brands to be seen not big corporate behemoths, but as companies that value their customers as individuals rather than cogs,” said author Rupal Parekh in an Ad Age article.

This is exactly why people didn’t blame Microsoft for exploiting the popular challenge when Bill Gates accepted it (see below).

You probably didn’t notice, but this video also includes product placement. Have viewers decried the ad as a branding play? Nope. Bill Gates isn’t dumping ice water over a product to show off its water resistant feature—he took on the challenge as an individual, and challenged other influential individuals to do the same.

Samsung is receiving backlash because it failed to bring a human element to a cause and challenge that are inherently human. Jack Talbott, a commenter on a related Adweek article, has a similar view on the issue:

“By using a product in place of say their CEO holding the product, Samsung has created a marketing and promotional video for their product using light of a very serious health awareness campaign. The phone challenges others phones, so in essence making it a 100% marketing piece, not a charity video.


If the CEO were holding this product, it would be tongue and cheek. If they were to challenge other CEO’s of say Apple or Google, it would be tongue and cheek, thus using subtle marketing techniques to promote your product indirectly,” he said.

Obviously, everyone will have their own opinion about the ad and as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. However, there are ways to flaunt a smartphone’s features that don’t alienate audiences. This controversy could have been avoided if Samsung had kept a human element at the core of its marketing efforts.

The concept is clever, but it missed the mark. Audiences will always respond more positively to humanized marketing. Brands must ensure that each and every marketing material is designed to form deeper connections with consumers on a fundamental, human level, because this is what will drive the best results for digital marketing campaigns.

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