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Are Ageist Smartphone Commercials a Dumb Move?


If you watch TV, by now you've probably seen the pool-party commercial for the new Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone.

The spot shows hip college-age revelers befuddling their iPhone-using elders with all of the phone's flashy technology - such as the AirView feature that allows users to answer the phone by sweeping their fingers over the screen without actually touching it, a camera mode that allows them to take rapid-fire pictures of moving objects and an app that transforms the phone into a TV remote control.

As Ad Age digital notes, though, the commercial strives to position the S4 as the "young, tech-savvy, early adopter's smartphone," mostly by trashing the iPhone as the antiquated choice of out-of-it geezers. (The oldsters also showed up in a Samsung commercial in September, unfavorably comparing the iPhone5 to the Samsung GS3.) When a young woman uses the S4's near-field communication (NFC) technology to share photos with a friend by touching their phones, for example, an older woman next to her tries to join in, only to discover that her iPhone doesn't have NFC. The woman's husband then remarks: "Some smartphones are smarter than other smartphones." (The real reason the current iPhone doesn't have NFC: Apple's designers gave it an aluminum-and-glass body that blocks such transmissions, while the S4 has a lighter, plastic body that doesn't. But there's a downside: comparison testing  by phone-warranty provider SquareTrade found that the iPhone 5 is relatively durable, while the S4 is much more vulnerable to cracking if you drop it.)

See also:  5 Reasons for Buying an iPhone 5

Technology critics such as the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, Forbes' Larry Magid and The Verge's  David Pierce have given the S4 mixed reviews, generally praising its long list of features but finding fault with its design. ("A worthy phone, but - for most people - nothing to get too excited about," Magid opines.) But the bigger question may be whether Samsung's ageist marketing strategy is a wise one. Mac DailyNews, a website for Apple enthusiasts, argues that it is more likely to backfire: "Limiting your target market in the U.S. to 30.6 million adults under 25, while trumpeting iPhone as the smartphone for those over 25, or some 204 million people, just doesn't seem like a very sound strategy. Especially since the older demographics have far more disposable income." According to ComScore, the iPhone still holds the biggest share of smartphone users, with 39 percent to Samsung's 21.7 percent.

Indeed, even Samsung seems to be hedging its bets on the age front, with this ad in which a middle-aged woman gets praised as "cool" by a college-age young man because of her mastery of an S4 photo-editing app.

So what do you think? Do Samsung's commercials do a good job of selling the S4's features, or do you find them offensive? Tell us your thoughts below.


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