Brands

The Short, Happy Life Of
Samsung’s DigitAll Magazine

In 2001, just a year into the new millennium, Samsung was already having a Millennial problem. The company was having a hard time reaching new, younger consumers who considered technology an essential part of their day-to-day lives. Pressure was on Samsung’s marketing team to grow their global market share, and it was clear that reaching those consumers would be essential.

Enter Jean Shin, of Centerpoint, a U.S.-based consulting firm, and Craig Bromberg, editor of what would become Samsung’s DigitAll, a print magazine published for six years, starting in 2001.

“The company was trying to connect to a younger generation that was living a hybrid of tech and lifestyle together,” said Shin. “[DigitAll] was meant to be a kind of tool to get to them through unconventional means.”

People could pick it up there, bring it into a meeting, and start talking about the innovative things the company was doing. It was serving a purpose.”

And target those new tech-lifestyle consumers, it did. The first issue featured interviews with celebrities and tech luminaries (including Michael Johnson, Paul Palmer, Brad McGhee, Anna Windsor, Bong Joo Lee) and addressed the ‘new power of mobile phones.’ ”

“We were telling good stories, using great writers,” said Bromberg. “We bought great, original photography. It was a beautiful book.” According to Bromberg, Samsung was committed to creating great content, spending $500-750,000 per year on well-known freelance writers, photography and an in-house staff of at least four.

That content investment mirrored the path forged by brand publishing giants like John Deere, which has been publishing The Furrow for more than 115 years with a peak circulation of 2 million, and Tesco, which reaches more than 3.1 million people through its two branded publications. Samsung’s problem, though, was that while the magazine was focusing on influencers and innovation to attract young trendsetters, it was struggling to reach thousands of consumers, save millions.

“We struggled, really, with distribution,” explained Bromberg. “They printed about 30-40,000 copies of the magazine near the CEO’s headquarters in Seoul, and then they sent them to corporate offices all over the world.”

Headquarters, it seemed, considered the publication more of a conversation starter for investors and vendors than a tool to reach young consumers.

“It’d be on the coffee table, or in the global store in Time Warner Center,” said Shin. “People could pick it up there, bring it into a meeting, and start talking about the innovative things the company was doing. It was serving a purpose.”

But that purpose was at odds with Bromberg’s vision of DigitAll as a consumer-focused magazine.

“Every year, Samsung would have a theme. It’d come out at the beginning of the year, and we’d build content around that,” Bromberg said. “We’d go out of our way to make sure we weren’t just trumpeting the brand – and we kept Samsung’s promotion to the back of the book, mostly… You could think of the magazine as the interstitial place between the products and the associative values of the brand; it was the opposite of what the other U.S. corporate magazines at that time were dominated by.”

It was a kind of tool to get to these new consumers through unconventional means… and while it was around, it did just that.”

In order to reach more consumers, Bromberg wanted to put the magazine in a much more prominent place online. Occasionally, with the direct support of the CEO’s office, Bromberg said, they were eventually able to get the magazine’s website featured, on Samsung’s homepage. Much of the rest of the time though, the magazine was buried deep inside the rest of Samsung’s corporate website, far from its potential digital readers.

“We could’ve hit a consumer market, eventually I think,” Bromberg said. “We had the content for it — great writers, good stories.”

But in late 2007, just as DigitAll’s editorial strategy was hitting its stride, the company hit a rocky patch and its chairman, Lee Kun Hee – the magazine’s primary supporter within Samsung – was deposed in a scandal that rocked the company.

“We started to lose the backup of the company’s leadership after the crisis, and things just fell apart,” Bromberg said. Throughout his tenure, the editorial team kept hitting roadblocks internally, driven by a variety of conflicting corporate directives, but the scandal finally broke things up for good.

The magazine closed up shop in autumn of 2007, a cautionary tale for brand publishers that content itself isn’t enough – it needs to be a part of a greater business strategy backed by company leadership. DigitAll was also operating in a more difficult landscape; the magazine’s final issue preceded the explosion of social media, which has changed the game for brands, allowing them to reach vast audiences with content efficiently and inexpensively.

Since then, Samsung has re-envisioned its brand publishing efforts, using a variety of digital media platforms to attract an audience in the tens of millions and building a magazine app, Samsung Vision, that, in some ways, throws back to the original vision for DigitAll‘s digital presence.

“This was a part of Samsung’s vision — they were trying to connect to a younger generation that was living the hybrid of tech and lifestyle together,” said Shin. “It was a kind of tool to get to these new consumers through unconventional means… and while it was around, it did just that.”

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Image by Kate Gardiner
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