When being better doesn't equal victory: Samsung's curious overshadowing of HTC

In a lot of things, being the best generally leads to victory. Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the London Olympics? He wins the gold. A hosting company has the best recorded uptime? It takes home an award. Google launches the fastest consumer broadband available in the US? Boom, victory.

But every so often, life throws us a curveball. For every 1972 Dolphins team, there's a pack of believers from NC State eager to do something crazy in 1983. And in more germane terms, there's presently no rhyme or reason why HTC has continually outgunned Samsung in terms of design prowess, yet continues to bleed cash while its Korean rival mints it. Actually, there is a reason. It's called marketing.

Personally, I view it as complete saturation of the airwaves. According to an Asymco report from November, Samsung is spending somewhere in the region of $12 billion on advertising, commissions and sales promotions to market its Galaxy range of smartphones and tablets. Based on Fortune's observations, that's more than Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Dell, HP and Apple each spend.

When being better doesn't equal victory Samsung's curious overshadowing of HTC

Meanwhile, HTC announced back in October that it would be slashing its already meager advertising budget by 15 percent. In all practicality, this has effectively killed the brand in North America. When's the last time you saw an HTC ad on a show that anyone cares about? What if I asked you the same question of Samsung?

For every 1972 Dolphins team, there's a pack of believers from NC State eager to do something crazy in 1983.

The most bizarre part to me isn't that Samsung is willing to fork out ungodly amounts of currency in order to sear the term "Galaxy" onto the brains of every human alive -- it's that the outfit's North American marketing partners are actually stellar. The mockery of consumers lining up for the next iPhone -- a phone that the ad below mocks as being more of the same -- struck a nerve because it was built around a certain amount of truth. Never mind the fact that the Galaxy S 4 is effectively a Galaxy S III S, and Samsung is no doubt hoping for lines of its own come April.

As the Galaxy S 4 launches with a substandard plastic exterior, a chintzy thatched motif and a host of features that we've already seen in a device that's already available, HTC's One is dead in the water. It has (essentially) zero mind share. Outside of the technology sphere -- those who follow the latest releases as sport -- it's as if the year's most supremely engineered Android phone doesn't exist. Heck, it's almost as if HTC doesn't exist.

The other part of the marketing equation -- a part that few actually take the time to appreciate -- involves the carriers. Within minutes of the Galaxy S 4 being unveiled, members of the media were inundated with near-evangelical support from Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T and a host of other network operators. Just like that, the carriers that act so frequently as the point of sale for new phones are salivating at the thought of hawking a few more Samsung products. Where's the love for HTC's One? Exactly.

When being better doesn't equal victory Samsung's curious overshadowing of HTC

Photo credit: Ryan Block

You may argue that the One actually isn't superior to the Galaxy S 4, and if you wanted to run down a bill of materials between the two, you'd probably be able to construct a reasonable argument. But its design is something worth gawking at. It feels like the future, sculpted from anodized aluminum and boasting some of the world's most advanced components. It'll sell for the same or less than the Galaxy S 4, but I can guarantee you -- yes, right now -- that Samsung's entrant will outsell HTC's by orders of magnitude.

The reality, of course, is that customers vote with their wallets.

The reality, of course, is that customers vote with their wallets. More power to Samsung for figuring out how to make 'em open those things up. After all, MacGruber was heavily marketed, but consumers didn't buy it. It's also quite possible that the masses care far less about a premium fit and finish, and more about whiz-bang UX touches -- or, you know, just having the ability to awkwardly tap phones together to transfer a playlist that could've been emailed with far less fuss. Just in case.

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I've got nothing personal against the Galaxy line, and similarly, I've no stock in HTC. In fact, my current daily driver doesn't boast either of those labels. The Note II's form factor is presently my favorite in the smartphone realm, and I've owned both an HTC Nexus One as well as a Galaxy S II in the past. Indeed, the Galaxy S 4 is a technological feat, and deserves whatever praise will inevitably be heaped upon it by the scores of people who queue up to buy one. But if you're HTC, life has to be frustrating. You just watched an arch-rival introduce a phone that's more cheaply constructed and less impressive from both a quality and design standpoint than your own flagship. And despite that, it's going to be single-handedly overshadowed by some clever commercial that shows up everywhere from CBS to the inner workings of your dreams.

But hey, not every David is lucky enough to match up with Goliath, right?