Ever watch one of those serious films that make you decode symbolism from one scene to the next in order to understand the deeper meaning of the story? The sort of film that gets better the more times you watch it, and better still if you read your favorite critic to help illuminate the deep, tangled subtext? It takes some work, but can be rewarding if you’re willing to stick it out.

Now, have you ever watched a commercial that made you want to put in the same level of effort to understand its message? Probably not!

Samsung’s ostrich VR ad is a good example of what I’m talking about. It was an absolute hit in the marketing world because it checks most of the right marketing boxes. It’s uplifting, funny, inspiring, beautifully produced, clever, won marketing/creative awards. However, I’m not sure what it accomplishes for the Samsung brand as a whole.

Good Branding Resonates with Buyers—not Marketers

It’s not hard to understand why marketers love this advertisement, in the same way that someone with a degree in literature may love a book that people outside of that bubble have a hard time enjoying. And it’s not just marketers because the ad has already topped 25 million YouTube views at the time of this post. However, let’s look at what this ad tells us at face value:

  • Samsung is an electronics brand that viewers have almost definitely heard of, and it is marketing VR tech to an American audience.
  • Samsung’s VR tech produces beautiful images, allowing you (or an ostrich) to feel like you are floating through the clouds.
  • Ostriches are large, funny, cute birds, which most viewers will know are flightless.
  • If an ostrich believes hard enough, and stumbles upon the right Samsung technology at the right moment, then it can take flight, too.

The advertisement works on a basic level, if the goal is simply to show you that VR is pretty cool and that Samsung has a clever, creative marketing team. But we all know that Samsung is not your average tech company, and its image has taken a prolonged beating recently due to the Note 7 battery fiasco. The reason that marketers love the ad so much has less to do with its cute, clever nature, and much more to do with its underlying message, as articulated by Tim Nudd of Adweek:

“The ostrich, clearly, is perfect, both as a creature that might fulfill its own destiny via VR and as a metaphor for Samsung itself—a grounded bird that’s become a bit of a joke, but could soar if it only just believes.”

This is where we start running into trouble because the average viewer (customer) is probably not going to interpret the big bird as much more than a fun prop in the commercial. It’s not because they’re dumb, either – I wouldn’t have gotten it myself if I hadn’t read the reviews, and most people aren’t going to read the marketing reviews. The real problem is that they’re just not going to take the time to decode the commercial—which is already interrupting something they had more interest in watching.

Bottom line—the ostrich may be a perfect metaphor, but only if you’re among the crowd that likes deep metaphors in your commercials. For the rest of us, the intended meaning of the ad won’t really come across unless we learn about it from someone else.

Does the commercial make you want to try out Samsung VR? Does it change your impression of Samsung as a brand? In my opinion, NOT AT ALL. The ad does some things right, but the deeper, big-picture meaning is only going to resonate with a small, marketing-minded group of viewers. The rest of us are left to enjoy the funny, flying ostrich… and perhaps be inspired by the symbolism.


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