Samsung gets its marketing knuckles wrapped – twice.

Samsung logoTech manufacturing giant Samsung’s “questionable” marketing activities have been in the news this past week – again.

This time, it’s reported that the company has been fined a $340,000 penalty for paying people to post trash-talk comments about competitor HTC’s products in customer online forums in Taiwan.

Back in April, the Fair Trade Commission in Taiwan opened an investigation into allegations that Samsung had recruited certain employees along with freelance writers from the outside to flack the shortcomings of its competitors’ products.

In addition to the company being held culpable, two of Samsung’s outside marketing firms were fined for their part in the marketing shenanigans masquerading as natural content.

This is pretty big news in the world of smartphones.  HTC and Samsung are major competitors in this highly competitive marketplace, and both companies offer products that operate on the Android platform.

But Samsung’s fortunes have risen dramatically over the past year as its global smartphone market share jumped from ~19% to ~30%.

By contrast, HTC’s share declined from ~9% to slightly less than ~5% over the same period.

Evidently, Samsung couldn’t resist the temptation to kick a competitor when it was already on the ropes.

Chalk it up to the “take no prisoners” atmosphere in the cutthroat competitive world of mobile technology – the “New York Garment District mentality” writ large.

“Astro-turfing” isn’t new, of course.  But the practice is usually the province of smaller companies with fewer scruples … or marketing people who are simply unaware of proper marketing etiquette (and often backed by legal opinion).

Amateur hour
“Amateur hour” at Samsung’s marketing department makes the company look just … silly.

For a company as large and as sophisticated at Samsung, it does seem a little … odd.  And certainly not in good form.

But as it turns out, this isn’t the first time Samsung’s gotten caught with its marketing pants down.

Just a few months ago, the company was discovered bribing various people to “talk up” its development activities – and “talk down” their competitors – during the Samsung Smart App Challenge competition.

Android developer Delyan Kratunov went public with ongoing correspondence in which a viral marketing company working for Samsung offered him $500 to cite positive mentions on the Stack Overflow online community.

The instructions were specific:  Mr. Kratunov would need to ask a series of “casual and organic” questions about Samsung’s app challenge over a month-long period.

Later, the marketing company attempted to distance itself from the egregious behavior — but not before the incident had been exposed.

My response to Samsung is this:  You’re already winning.  There’s no need to engage in “adolescent business behavior” of this kind.

It’s in very bad form … and sooner or later it’ll come back to bite you.

Stuff like this always does eventually.

Pew Chronicles the Public’s Knowledge of Current Events: A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep

NewsIQ Research from the Pew Research CenterAll right, folks. Are you prepared to be depressed?

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press has just published the results of its annual News IQ survey in which it asks members of the U.S. public a baker’s dozen questions about current events.

A total of ~1,000 people were surveyed by the Pew Research Center in mid-November. The multiple choice survey covered a mix of political, economic and business issues and included the questions shown below. (The percentages refer to how many answered each multiple choice question correctly).

 The company running the oil well that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico (BP) … 88% answered correctly
 The U.S. deficit compared to the 1990s (larger) … 77% correct
 The political party that won the 2010 midterm elections (Republicans) … 75% correct
 The international trade balance (U.S. buys more than it sells) … 64% correct
 The current U.S. unemployment rate (10%) … 53% correct

 The political party that will control the House of Representatives in 2011 (Republicans) … 46% correct
 The state of Indian/Pakistani relations (unfriendly) … 41% correct
 The category on which the U.S. Government spends the most dollars (defense) … 39% correct
 The name of the new Speaker of the House (John Boehner) … 38% correct
 The name of Google’s mobile phone software (Android) … 26% correct

 The amount of TARP loans repaid (more than 50%) … 16% correct
 The name of the new Prime Minister of Great Britain (David Cameron) … 15% correct
 The current U.S. annual inflation rate (1%) … 14% correct

The percentage of respondents who answered all questions correctly was … fewer than 1%. Ten questions? … just 6% answered correctly. Eight of the questions? … only 22%.

On average, respondents answered just five of the 13 questions correctly. Even college graduates scored relatively weak, with an average of just seven questions answered correctly.

The public appears to be best informed on basic economic issues such as the unemployment rate and the budget deficit, while nine in ten respondents correctly identified BP as the corporate culprit in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill event. Not surprisingly, these were among the biggest news stories of the past several quarterly news cycles.

The worst scores were recorded on the TARP program and the current inflation rate, which fewer than one in five respondents answered correctly (about the same as the David Cameron/UK question which people could be forgiven for answering incorrectly).

You can view detailed results from the survey, including breakouts by age, gender, race and political party affiliation. Not wishing to step into a thicket by editorializing on these differences, I’ll leave it to you to see for yourself by clicking through to the Pew findings on your own.

Pew concludes that while Americans are aware of “basic facts” regarding current events, they struggle with getting a good handle on the specifics.

Might this be a byproduct of how people are consuming news these days? After all, there’s far less reliance on newspapers or news magazine articles … and more emphasis on “headline news” and short sound bites.

That’s the sort of recipe that results in people knowing the gist of a story without gaining any particular depth of understanding beyond the headlines.

Now that you’ve seen the correct answers to the questions, you won’t be able to test yourself against the public at large, so I’ve kind of spoiled the fun. But a little honesty here: how well do you think you would have scored?

Smartphones surge … and phone apps follow right behind.

Smartphones surge in the marketplace ... phone apps right behind them.Media survey firm Nielsen is reporting that as of the end of 2009, about one in five wireless subscribers in the U.S. owned a smartphone. That’s up significantly from the ~14% who owned them at the end of 2008, and adoption is only expected to accelerate in the coming months.

So what’s going on with phone apps, now that a larger chunk of the population is able to download and use them? Nielsen is seeing about 15% of mobile subscribers downloading at least one app in a 30-day period.

Perhaps not surprisingly, those who own iPhones are more apt to download apps compared to people who own Android phones, Palms or BlackBerrys. Far more apps have been developed for the iPhone, although Android is feverishly trying to catch up.

Which apps are most popular? It goes without saying that games – free and paid – are quite popular. But the four most popular apps are Facebook, Google Maps, the Weather Channel and Pandora.

And where are the news apps in all this? Not even on the radar screen, it turns out.

… Seems people are getting more than enough news blasted out to them 24/7/365 without needing to sign up for a special app to deliver more of it — thank you very much.

Google Goggles: The Innovations in Search Marketing Just Keep on Coming

Just when you thought there were no new breakthroughs to be had in search marketing … along comes Google Goggles. It’s a new “visual search” application focusing on computer vision for mobile phones, currently in development and testing at Google Labs. An early version has already been unveiled by the Goggles product development team and been released to Android mobile users.

What does Google Goggles do? It allows anyone to search on a cell phone simply by snapping a picture of an object. Once the picture has been taken, it is “read” by Google’s cloud, algorithms search for the information, the matches are ranked and detailed search results appear on your phone – just as if you had typed in a search command.

Because this is far easier to show than to explain, Google has issued a short video clip that features several members of the development team demonstrating how Goggles works. Currently, the app works well with inanimate objects such as DVDs, books, and physical landmarks. You can even point your phone to a store building while using the geo-targeting feature, and search results pertaining to the store and its merchandise will appear on your phone.

What doesn’t work so well are items like food, plants, animals and people … yet. Give it a few more years, and no doubt the brains at Google will have figured out those challenges as well.

While at present Goggles is available only to Android phone users, it is Google’s intention to develop and offer the program to other popular mobile platforms. So iPhone and BlackBerry users needn’t worry.

Incidentally, Goggles isn’t the only new development in search that’s happening right now. Google is also working on creating real-time translation in multiple languages by speaking a query into a search engine app. (The audio is translated into a digital request before being processed and returning results.) And developers at Ball State University are working on devices that can “read” search commands simply by the flick of a finger or by waving in front of the screen.

What’s next? Search results appearing after someone merely thinks about making a query?