The XX Factor

Why Are the New Samsung Ads Depicting Decidedly Unmacho Dudes?

Smartphones can seem indistinguishable. The iPhone benefits from Apple’s near-magical brand halo, but most of its competitors tend to melt into an undifferentiated slab of rectangular touch screens. They have similar functions and physical designs, and are tough to tell apart when lined up on the wall of a cell phone store. It’s a challenge for marketers to define these phones and make them pop from the crowd.

One strategy that’s emerged is to imbue the product with a vaguely gendered identity. There have been some ham handed efforts to feminize the iPhone: Check out this spot that dismisses the iPhone as “pretty” and “tiara wearing” and “digitally clueless,” while assuring dudes that the competing Droid phone is “not a princess–it’s a robot.” Other Droid ads have shown a video game babe battling evil machines, or portrayed the phone itself as a whirring blade that slices violently through a city–at one point hurtling toward a crowd of endangered pedestrians. Totally retrograde masculinity.

All of which makes me wonder what’s going on in two new ads for the Samsung Focus Flash phone. In “Banter,” a dude posts a video of his pal bawling at a tearjerker movie. The crying dude is utterly unashamed, and wins points with his girlfriend when she views the clip:

In “Fashion Advice,” another dude (played by Badger from Breaking Bad!) gets persuaded by his girlfriend to try on a pair of skinny jeans and a purple t-shirt. He posts an awkward pic of himself in the outfit and then endures good-natured ribbing from his online pals:

The mere fact that these two dudes have girlfriends immediately sets them apart from the target Droid user–who is presumably too busy playing Xbox, and copulating with a sex robot in a dungeon, to maintain any kind of relationship. But the Samsung ads go further still: In both, pains are taken to capture men in decidedly un-macho moments.

Perhaps this is a backlash to the Droid backlash, reassuring guys that there’s a happy middle ground between the feminine iPhone and the grizzled, stubbly Droid? Perhaps the type of dudes who are prone to sharing photos and videos on social media sites (the central selling point of this phone) are also the type of dudes who prefer a less prototypically manly bearing? Or perhaps the target is in fact the girlfriends, who by gifting this phone to their men will fulfill dual desires–both that their dudes be more androgynous and that they boast a more robust presence on Facebook and Twitter?

Put on your marketing hat and post your theories in the comment thread.