Samsung vies for goodwill in China with cuddly ads that don’t show any phones

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Even though it competes in the cutthroat world of smartphone marketing, Samsung is taking a softer approach in China. It has unveiled a series of ads that feature disabled children and don’t show any Samsung products at all—but rather the “human triumphs” that the company’s charitable programs help make possible.

The first ad in the series features Yan Yuhong (顔玉宏), a 12-year-old boy who became a parapalegic after contracting polio and—somewhat incredibly—walked to school on his hands for nine years. Samsung China has donated a motorized wheelchair and said it will continue to assist his rehabilitation.

Another ad in the series shows a girl who went blind due to cataracts, before her eyesight was restored when the company paid for her surgery.

Samsung says it wants to “switch from the product-oriented marketing strategy to a campaign that it hopes rebuilds its reputation as a business that is truly loved by Chinese people and contributes to Chinese society,” according to its corporate blog.

The company’s CSV campaign (for “Creating Shared Value,” a similar doctrine to corporate social responsibility) may turn out to make especially good business sense in China, where big foreign firms are often excoriated by the state-controlled media. Companies from South Korea, unlike those from Japan and the United States, have mostly escaped this nationalist ire, but Samsung probably knows that it is only takes one fiasco to turn the tide—just ask Malaysian Airways.

Samsung is currently China’s biggest smartphone maker, but Chinese competitors Lenovo, Xiamoi, Coolpad, and Huawei are gaining ground.


The rollout of Samsung’s goodwill campaign in China also appears to be carefully timed: South Korean media report that Chinese president Xi Jinping will meet with Samsung heir apparent Lee Jay-yong during Xi’s visit to South Korea next week.