Mikah Martin-Cruz is feeling bullish. Sitting in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, overlooking New York City, Samsung's UK marketing director has come straight from the Korean manufacturer's biggest launch of the year. At an event in New York's Time Warner Center, the brand has rolled out its 3D TV product line, the culmination of 10 years' work and, it believes, the key to its future growth.
The event, it's fair to say, has left Martin-Cruz on something of a high. It's easy to see why. TV and film producers are falling over themselves to join the 3D revolution, and the launch featured Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of US film studio DreamWorks Animation, telling the world's media that Samsung's 3D TVs are the future of entertainment.
Martin-Cruz is keen to generate the same enthusiasm among UK consumers. Samsung's marketing budget this year will be focused on its TVs, and he has appointed CHI & Partners to handle communications, joining a roster of agencies that includes Beattie McGuinness Bungay. It will kick off the 3D TV campaign with a £7m TV push at the end of April. Samsung will also have an exclusive tie-up with DreamWorks' 3D film, Shrek Forever After, which will be released in the UK in July.
The brand has a head-start, in terms of awareness-building, due to the buzz generated by hit 3D films such as Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, as well as the launch of Sky's 3D TV channel next month. What's more, Martin-Cruz has no shortage of experience of creating interest in TVs. Before joining Samsung, he was at Sony for three years, where he oversaw a £47m UK marketing budget and was one of the team that worked with ad agency Fallon to create the award-winning 'Balls' campaign for the brand's Bravia range. That ad, which famously featured coloured balls bouncing down a street, increased brand awareness from 27% to 43% in six months.
'I fell in love with the ad straight away,' recalls Martin-Cruz. 'I like to see mould-breaking creativity, and it helped revitalise the brand. The ad knocked the dust off the brand and made consumers reappraise what a TV experience could be.' However, he adds, when you have such a strong creative idea, 'you can't let it be a one-off'.
To that end, Samsung is planning further work around its 3D campaign. Its in-house agency, Cheil, will work on the retail side, which will include displaying Samsung 3D TVs in more than 800 UK shops.
The brand is also investing in its own content to showcase the technology. As the TVs come with a hard drive installed, it offers the brand an opportunity to supply content embedded within the sets.
Deals struck so far include one with Premier League football club Chelsea, of which Samsung is the sponsor, to create a 3D film. 'We will have unlimited behind-the-scenes access and we will film it all in 3D,' says Martin-Cruz. 'The content will be available in-store on our 3D TVs.'
It's not unusual for Martin-Cruz to be excited by the new, according to one agency source who has worked with him and describes him as a 'bit of a butterfly', flitting from one new idea to the next. 'He is very open to ideas and to creativity,' adds the source. 'The flip-side to that is that he can be incredibly effusive about something you show him, then the next day, he will have found something else to be excited about.'
Martin-Cruz admits he is a 'big-picture' person. At Sony, the source says he was one of the few people who understood chief executive Howard Stringer's vision of Sony United - joining up the disparate divisions; however, he found it harder in practice to drive through the necessary changes. At Samsung, he has Michelle Blaydon, the UK insight and planning manager, to bring an element of process to the strategising.
Martin-Cruz started his career at Mediaedge:cia, before moving client-side at Warner Bros, then on as head of marketing at Viacom's Paramount Comedy Channel, where, working with TBWA, he repositioned the satellite and cable channel under the line 'Comedy is Paramount'. A role at BT followed, before he joined Sony in 2005.
Samsung called in 2008, at a time when it was keen to unite its marketing under a global vision. The shift was from an established brand (although one that was, arguably, on the wane) to one that had gained global scale on the back of its technology, but was still trying to unite its interests in a coherent, consumer-facing brand. Martin-Cruz says the scale of the opportunity, including changing the company's internal culture and building a consumer-centric approach - was too good to miss.
He has gained influence within the organisation - he was one of six marketing directors across the globe selected to come up with an umbrella strapline that was aligned to an overarching vision for the brand. The line they selected, after much internal debate, is 'Turn on tomorrow'. This will appear in its ads alongside the endline chosen specifically for the 3D launch campaign, 'A new dimension in TV'.
'It was important that the strapline fitted into the masterbrand's proposition of engaging with consumers,' says Martin-Cruz. 'It has to communicate the essence of the brand, about innovation and creativity.'
Samsung is, of course, not the only company looking to dominate 3D TV; Sony, Philips and Korean rival LG Electronics are among the manufacturers vying for the space. Martin-Cruz insists that Samsung's consumer-centric approach and 'premium value' positioning should differentiate the business and keep it ahead of its rivals.
The brand also has the benefit of recent marketing activity to build on - last year its focus was on its LED TV models, and a major marketing push increased brand preference by 40%, he claims.
Nevertheless, the 3D campaign is a big demonstration of Samsung's confidence in 3D. The brand is asking a lot of consumers still feeling the impact of the recession: to upgrade their sets yet again, and to invest £120 in the special glasses needed to watch 3D content.
The slow roll-out of HD TV showed that consumers, media owners and manufacturers are not always on the same wave-length when it comes to new technology, and it seems likely that 3D will remain a niche product for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, Martin-Cruz is confident that his recognition of 3D's potential will pay off.
'The UK family audience is watching more TV than it ever has done,' he claims. 'I want Samsung to stand out in consumers' minds as the best brand for fantastic viewing experiences. That's why it's so important for me that 3D is the focus of our marketing attention this year.'
Marketing manager EMEA, Warner Interactive Entertainment,
Head of marketing, Paramount Comedy Channel, Viacom
Head of marketing and commercial partnerships, BT Entertainment
General manager, marketing, Sony UK
Marketing director, Samsung UK
Married with two children
Currently working on
Designing and building his own property
Campaign he wishes he had commissioned