Samsung's Todd Pendleton on That Game-Changing Jay Z Deal

Todd Pendleton photographed at the Samsung Galaxy Studio in New York

Sasha Maslov

Jay Z and Samsung changed how people think about delivering albums. Samsung chief marketing officer Todd Pendleton discusses how the deal came together, and what's next.

 

The out-of-the-blue June 15 announcement of Jay Z’s "Magna Carta . . . Holy Grail" was a watershed moment. Not just because it heralded Jay Z’s first album in four years, but its first week of availability would be courtesy of Samsung and not any label partner. In a deal worth $30 million in media spend, music rights and endorsement fees, Jay Z’s Roc Nation and Samsung changed the way a major album could be released and distributed.

There was a blip of backlash, with some Samsung users flagging privacy concerns over the requested permissions included in the app. But six months later, Todd Pendleton, ­Samsung’s chief marketing officer for North America, considers the deal a huge success -- and one that helped the company sell phones like its Galaxy S4. By October, Samsung’s share of smartphone subscribers had risen 1.3% from 24.1% in July, the month of the Jay Z promotion, to 25.4% (trailing only Apple with 40.6%), according to comScore MobiLens. In his first interview discussing the Jay Z partnership, Pendleton spoke with Billboard about Samsung’s year in music, the importance of “real time” marketing and whether Samsung is interested in another deal like the one it made with Jay Z.

Samsung made a major splash in music this year, from the Jay Z deal to an aggressive festival and awards sponsorship strategy with South by Southwest, Lollapalooza and the Latin Grammys to performances with artists like Prince and Bruno Mars. Why is music such an important vehicle?
For us, music is always going to be pivotal in what we do from a marketing standpoint. But also from a device standpoint, we’re a part of everyone’s life and our devices are as well. It’s been about finding that seamless bond between the two -- whether it be a Jay Z launch and us finding a new distribution model for music, or using experiential concert experiences at South by Southwest as an opportunity to reward our customers for being loyal Galaxy owners. Even at festivals, it’s a place where our audience can learn about our Galaxy devices and current owners have the opportunity to have battery swaps. We try to marry the world of their device and their product experience with the experience we can give them around music.

2013: The Year in Music

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Samsung has marketed itself differently from other mobile brands, and often without much mention of your retail or carrier partners in its advertising. How would you describe Samsung’s overall brand positioning, music’s role in it?
We’re an innovation company, a technology company first and foremost. Our core values are bringing the best mobile devices to people first. There’s a cachet to that, a status to having the best device before anyone else. And the leaders, the innovators who have that shared mind-set, are the people we partner with in the music space. Jay is a great example -- someone who’s an innovator in music, an innovator in business.

Samsung’s advertising has been very focused on putting the products first and your carrier and retail partners second. Why is that, and might we see more collaboration with your carrier partners in the new year?
In our TV commercials in general and all of our creative, our carrier partners are part of the work in that they’re tagged at the end as whosever carrying that product we’re highlighting so they know where they can buy it. The carriers and our national retail partners are integral to our success. We deeply integrate with them as much as possible. What I think you’re seeing in a lot of the work is us owning our brand story and our innovation story and sharing that with the world. And telling people why they should care about Samsung Galaxy products. Their carriers are distribution points and helping to bring that to life at retail, they bring that story to life through our own creative and what we partner with. Our partners are hugely critical and we work with them on everything that we do.

Sources said that the deal with Jay Z came together, from idea to execution, in 30 days. True?
Yeah, that’s how we work. It’s crazy for people outside the tech world, if you think about how we launch a product. A lot of the technology, a lot of features and what our product is going to contain is held secret to the last minute, for obvious reasons. For us on the marketing side, that puts a huge time constraint on how we go to market. It’s usually a three- to six-week cycle. We had 30 days to sit down with Jay and [Roc Nation partner] John Meneilly and [manager] Desiree [Perez], and talk about how mobile can be a new distribution centerpiece of an album that nobody knew about at the time.

For all the media dollars you put behind the deal, and the concerns over the app’s privacy, how did you ultimately define success?
First and foremost from a consumer standpoint. Consumers got to experience music in a new way, experience the Samsung brand in a new way and see Jay Z behind the scenes in a way they hadn’t seen him before. When he’s telling the story of “Jay Z Blue,” how his dad left and how he’s afraid of being a bad father, that’s something we all can relate to. On the industry side, for Samsung and mobile in general to be a distribution center for music and a platform for music—that is the future, right? Music is consumed on mobile more than ever -- it’s only going to become more common as the months and years go on. So, showing the promise of mobile as a lead distribution avenue for music is a big win. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what that can be.

Can, and should, the Jay Z deal be replicated with other artists? Why or why not?
For us, it’s always about doing something new and being different, always pushing the forefront in technology and in our marketing. If you copy something, is it going to be special? No. But if you take the learning from it and evolve it into something else in the future? Yes. Trying to replicate or copy it wouldn’t have the same results.

Aside from your own, is there a branded music program in 2013 that you admired?
I’m not a fan just because he’s a colleague of mine, but Omar Johnson at Beats and how Beats has grown their brand through that influencer model. From everything they did with “Blurred Lines” to product integration with Eminem, it’s using music in a smart way and tapping into those passion points.

What’s next?
We’re not going to repeat anything we’ve done before. Right now, anything that could be happening as early as January or February is still in the works. I don’t have anything tangible I could share with you -- even as a secret -- it’s all still in development. Part of our success, and why music is so important, is that whenever our marketing is done right it’s because we create cultural moments in real time. It’s not just about making and selling a product—being real-time helps us make sure we’re in the present, we’re in the now, to be part of the current conversations in society.

What music is on your phone these days?
Well, obviously Jay. Also Kanye West and Yeezus. He played at our Galaxy Note 2 event in New York a while back, and I’ve gotten to know him pretty well over the years. I know the album’s very polarizing but I just love it -- the industrial rawness of it and the lyrical content that’s back to that conscious rap. I grew up as a huge U2 fan, so getting a new song from them has been really interesting.

U2 has also been looking for partners to help set up its next album in 2014. Might that be something you guys get involved with?
You never know.