Ina Fried

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Samsung’s Marketing Chief Aims to Stir Passion for Korea’s Electronics Giant

Samsung marketing executive Younghee Lee wants consumers to stop thinking about her company.

Instead, Lee wants consumers to start feeling something about Samsung and its products.

As head of marketing for the Korean electronics maker, Lee said she wants to figure out “how I can engage with consumers from the bottom of their heart, and not just be a big and functional and rational and reasonable brand.”

Lee, who worked for cosmetics brands L’Oreal and Lancome before joining Samsung four and a half years ago, said she wants consumers to love Samsung, to be obsessed with the company and its products.

Nowhere is that more clear than in the company’s current U.S. ad campaign, where the Korean company positions its products as the cooler alternative to the iPhone, despite the cultlike atmosphere that surrounds Apple.

“Especially in U.S., people are obsessed with Apple,” Lee said, in a lengthy interview at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month. “It’s time to change people’s attention.”

In the most recent ad installment, the company even tries to turn its name into a verb, with one of the Apple fans noting that he has been “Samsunged.”

The company plans to step up the attack in a Super Bowl ad on Sunday.

The Super Bowl spot — a first for Samsung’s cellphone unit — is only the start of what is expected to be a major marketing blitz for the company. As it has for some time now, Samsung’s phone division is a global Olympic sponsor.

This time, though, Lee said, the company will aim to more directly tie the games to a product launch, though she declined to say which product it might be. (Galaxy S III, anyone?)

When Lee first joined Samsung, it was a bit hard to be taken seriously, she concedes. The Korean newspapers questioned why a technology company would turn to “a cosmetics lady.”

“I bravely took this position,” she said, adding that she challenged the company to speak in the language of consumers, rather than in geek speak. “Nobody was talking about consumer languages. I saw the huge potential there. I tried to interpret our difficult technology into consumer languages.”

Slowly, her colleagues came around to the idea.

Lee says that while some see cosmetics and technology as having nothing in common, there are actually more similarities than one might think.

And while Lee knows that the phone industry is different from selling makeup or soap, she says there is a technology component and an emotional component to each, and it is important to capture both.

“Very often, people believe cosmetics are a box of hopes or illusions,” Lee said. But in reality, they are based on science and innovation and technology.

And while there is perhaps a bit more high tech inside a smartphone, the science is just the starting point.

“Mobile can be a symbol of who you are,” she said. “A lot of people believe ‘what I have in my hands is me.’”


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