Everything is cyclical. Especially what is popular and what is not. This is the nature of our world. Everything is cool until it starts to age and then what was once old becomes hip again. But soon, the hip becomes old and right behind the hip is the next best thing, the underdog. The underdog position is coveted because there is the feeling of nothing to lose; no one expects too much, so the time is more than ripe to do something unexpected and ambitious.
Enter into the ring Mitt Romney, Samsung, and Wal-Mart: the current underdogs. While one could argue that all three are very close to the top of the game (if not on top, Wal-Mart) and all three are saturated in more money than many of us would ever know what to invest in; these three entities come to mind as the underdog. All three have been taking a beating and all three are in that coveted and often desirable place where anything can be surprising and ambitious. Just not all of them are playing their underdog cards right.
Last week, my cousin Nick posted a really well-done commercial for the Samsung Galaxy S III. The commercial comes out as a strong mockery of the Apple iPhone 5 and the crowd of people who are buying them. But as some bloggers assert Samsung is playing Pepsi to Apple’s Coke, and Pepsi turns out to not be such a bad place. As the underdog, Samsung has room to really show themselves in a new light and if they fail, they can try something new because they are not in the spotlight, Apple is.
Apple can no longer run the classic PC guy verses Mac guy ads featuring John Hodgman (Daily Show fame) and Justin Long (dated Drew Barrymore long-distance once) because Apple is on top and picking on the “PC guy” would be kicking a man when he’s down. No one likes a bully.
In 2007, Apple was the young, hip upstart; now they are Monty Burns with his finger over the “release the hounds” button.
Well, maybe not that far yet, but the recent legal battles with Samsung have been seen by many overseas (particularly in Korea, Samsung’s home turf) as a bit of an overstep into the world of being too big, a similar position Microsoft found themselves in not too long ago.
So Samsung is now Apple of 2007. They can paint the picture of themselves in a way that will make people realize they are right, but they just haven’t looked at them like that before.
Samsung would be smart to quietly tote their “next big thing” catch-phrase and wait until the smoke clears. They are promising to be what's next. There's a vision in there somewhere and going forward with a “something to prove” attitude is a great place to be.
But while Samsung may be warming up to the underdog place in the scheme of things there are some underdogs who can't seem to play their cards right. Actually, there's one that comes to mind: Mitt Romney.
Romney is in a position where it seems like he just can't catch a break from the left or the right; but yet he still keeps fighting with very little sense of direction or conviction. This should be Romney's moment to shine. This is the moment where Romney can really plant his feet and throw in some rhetoric straight out of left-field; his vision of America. But instead, he gives his 47% speech to his donors and then kind of leaves it on the fence for everyone else later.
“Kind of leaves it on the fence” is a good way to describe Romney on a lot of issues; namely health care.
It could be argued that with all the gaffes and blunders on the campaign trail, Romney has our sympathy; part of us wants to see him rise up and march into the debates guns blazing. But instead he just keeps treading in his familiar no man's land and in the end he will just sink into obscurity. Like Samsung, he’s got something to prove, but the problem is, he doesn’t know how to prove it.
As far as underdogs go, I want to end on a high note. This past week Bill Clinton had a great interview on The Daily Show. In the interview he commended Wal-Mart and their current initiatives to change the perception of the company. Wal-Mart does not hold a favorable position in my mind or in the minds of many others. They are seen as the “evil” alter-ego to their more eco-socially-friendly rivals; Target, Kohl’s and Whole Foods. But, it could be argued that they are making up for lost time out of the lime-light; a sort of humble turn around that not many people are paying attention to.
Wal-mart has been through a few scandalous decades with charges of ruining the small-businesses of America, providing inadequate health care for their employees, cases of sweatshop conditions overseas and a recent touch of bribery in Mexico; needless to say, Wal-Mart has been under the microscope and they have been left with a less than favorable image. But during the last few years, Wal-Mart has been quietly trying to turn their image around and wait until people notice. With an ambitious waste management plan (did you know Wal-Mart recycles over 80% of their waste?) and providing a new affordable system for public health care, Wal-Mart is becoming a big and bulky community leader as well as a crusader for the environment without asking for any sort of fanfare.
So while many may not be ready to turn around and greet Wal-Mart with open arms, they are making headway towards changing their public perception and living up to the expectation of what an American company should be.
Sadly for Mitt, it may be too late to learn a lesson from Wal-Mart or Samsung on what being an underdog is all about.