Samsung is trying out an attractive gambit: one million of its users (that is, those operating the Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy Note II) will receive a copy of Jay-Z’s newest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, for free. Three days in advance of its release.
But perhaps what is more interesting is why the South Korean company is making this play, now, in the United States.
Everywhere else in the world, Samsung is the king of the hill. According to analyst Mary Meeker, who presented her findings at this year’s D11 conference, the smartphone company has jumped up from just 4 percent global market share in 2010 to a dominant 29 percent, compared to Apple’s (s aapl) 22 percent market share . And in Q1 of 2013, Samsung nabbed the stop spot of overall handset sales, distributing more than 100 million units worldwide according to Gartner Research. Samsung’s shipments worldwide are even eclipsing feature phone sales, which shows its overall power.
Despite Samsung’s dominance, the U.S. remains a bastion for Apple. According to a ComScore report released earlier this month, Apple captured 39.2 percent market share in April compared to Samsung’s 22 percent — one of the largest gap between Apple and Samsung ever, even though the latter released the Galaxy S4 in March. According to Business Insider, the Samsung Galaxy S4 managed to eclipse Apple sales in nearly all of the big carriers in May, although consumers still favored the six-month-old iPhone 5.
From these numbers, it’s clear that even the latest Samsung phone has had trouble pushing past the iPhone 5. This is indicative that Apple’s brand recognition makes its top-tier phones more enticing to American buyers. In short, Apple still has the cool factor, and Samsung has yet to obtain it.
This disconnect in Samsung’s reputation makes its partnership with Jay-Z a great marketing strategy: it’s essentially a way to earn cool points as fast as possible. Samsung is capitalizing on an air of exclusivity to drive U.S. sales — hoping that this will pay off in a better way than its recent campaigns involving “head-to-head” commercials that poke fun at Apple. It’s also hitting Apple directly in a place that matters — music — by offering a high-profile artist even before an iTunes stream can be established.
Samsung’s desire to align itself with Jay-Z is just another step in using high-profile celebrities to add cachet to the company — lest we LeBron James’ foray with the Galaxy Note II. But this one ups the ante a bit, as Jay-Z’s near-solar star power is sure to draw even more hype.
How that will translate into phone sales has yet to be seen. But it’s clear that Samsung’s laser-focused strategy is keen on closing that gap, and finally gaining that aspirational reputation that Apple has monopolized for so long.