Samsung has been caught paying for anonymous posts bashing Taiwanese rival HTC. Taiwan's Fair Trade Commission has launched an investigation after receiving complaints about the practice, and Samsung itself posted an apology for the instance.
PC Advisor first spotted the news after Chinese-language site TaiwanSamsungLeaks (TSL) accused Samsung of "evil marketing." TSL posted documents from a local advertising firm allegedly hired by Samsung.
As part of the campaign, students were allegedly hired to bash HTC and praise Samsung smartphones in anonymous online comments. For instance, one user complained about a girlfriend's HTC One X and claimed that it crashed all the time. He also made posts claiming Samsung's Galaxy Note phablet was better than the HTC Sensation XL phablet.
Fake benchmarks were also posted showing that the Galaxy S3 had a longer battery life and better graphics performance than the HTC One X. Other comments simply praised Samsung and asked if Samsung devices had helped others earn job promotions.
To its credit, Samsung immediately owned up to the scandal and posted a statement apologizing for the campaign. The statement in full, as provided to CNet:
Samsung Electronics remains committed to engaging in transparent and honest communications with consumers as outlined in the company's Online Communications Credo. We have encouraged all Samsung Electronics employees worldwide to remain faithful to our Credo. The recent incident was unfortunate, and occurred due to insufficient understanding of these fundamental principles.
Samsung Electronics Taiwan (SET) has ceased all marketing activities that involve the posting of anonymous comments, and will ensure that all SET online marketing activities will be fully compliant with the company's Online Communications Credo.
We regret any inconvenience this incident may have caused. We will continue to reinforce education and training for our employees to prevent any future recurrence.
Rather than regretting any "inconvenience," Samsung may want to stop and question the corporate culture that could lead to a phony marketing campaign like this. There's no integrity in these actions, and it's a further demonstration of how the company pursues a win-at-all-costs strategy.
From internal documents that show Samsung executives saying their devices must both look and perform more like Apple's iPhone to be competitive, to a Samsung-endorsed celebrity in China who echoed a government attack against Apple under either the instructions of the Chinese government or Samsung itself, to this campaign, Samsung is demonstrating that it needs to do some corporate naval gazing.
Our friend Philip Elmer-Dewitt noted at Fortune that some have accused anonymous commenters at that magazine's site of being paid Samsung shills, but there's no proof of that, just as there's no proof that the celebrity implicated in the "post around 8:20" incident was acting on Samsung orders.
The reality is that doubters now have ammo. Even if the company wasn't behind those actions, the documented incidents are enough to give any healthy organization pause.
Samsung is a high profile and very profitable company, more so now because of its smartphone leadership than ever before. In my opinion, Samsung should seize the opportunity to lead by example and not stoop to such tactics as were revealed in Taiwan.
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