“If you want to be a meaningful brand, you have to provide a legacy,” says Alfonso Fernandez Iglesias. “We have to make things tangible.” As chief marketing officer and head of digital transformation at Samsung Iberia, he knows the empty purpose-washing that brands too often pursue. To make an impact on society takes substance. It’s simple to him: “It's not about doing optimistic things - firstly acting and then communicating.”
Alfonso counts himself lucky that he’s working at an electronics brand like Samsung, that can use the technology it has to hand to ‘make our purpose come alive’ and improve people’s lives.
Thanks to a long-running collaboration with creative agency Cheil, Samsung Spain has built a track record of doing exactly that. Under its ‘Technology with Purpose’ philosophy, it has consistently been innovating and building technology that helps society. "We have activated different projects that improve the quality of life of different audiences in the last five years, in a coherent and consistent way.”
Cheil’s global chief creative officer Malcolm Poynton knows the Samsung brand story deeply, and has seen how this manifests itself in slightly different ways around the world. But he notes that the purpose part of the brand outdates the technology aspect. “If you go back to the very origins of Samsung as a company, for its founding chairman coming out of their civil war in South Korea, founding Samsung was about the improvement and betterment of every individual in society, and their lives,” he says. That was before the company was making electronics. However, that philosophy has run deep within the company throughout its history and transpires differently within each market. But in Spain, Malcolm credits its consistency. “It's consistent because of the commitment that Alfonso has to being authentic. Technology with Purpose is not a marketing phrase - it's an absolute belief.”
Thanks to the purpose woven into the DNA of the company from the very beginning, Alfonso feels the projects that Samsung and Cheil have done together in Spain go far beyond CSR and are inseparable from the brand itself. “It's not doing things for altruism. It's doing things that will affect the business positively, but at the same time, are doing good for society.”
‘Technology with Purpose’ was first articulated at Samsung Spain almost 10 years ago, when Alfonso joined the brand after a stint at Coca-Cola. The goal had four pillars at first: to stimulate education, culture, accessibility and entrepreneurism / employability. Since then, a fifth pillar - wellbeing - has been added to emphasise the value of quality of life.
The philosophy drives a broad range of the work Samsung Spain does, but Alfonso highlights, in particular, a series of projects created with the help of Cheil that he describes as ‘the tip of the pyramid,’ in using technology to change the lives of people with dyslexia, ALS, blind swimmers, or even make a change to improve the safety of the roads. “These are the most iconic projects that started underneath this platform,” he says.
In 2016 Samsung introduced ‘quality of life’ (or wellbeing) as a pillar of the Technology with Purpose philosophy and stepped up its commitment to those goals with two more demonstrations through Cheil Spain. Firstly, the ‘Blind Cap’
was released - a swimming cap incorporating the latest technology to help blind Paralympic swimmers detect when to flip turn at the end of a lane in the pool. Improving the quality of life for elite athletes that somehow in 2016 still had to rely on being prodded with a pole.
Then there was ‘Dytective’ - another technological tool to improve people’s lives. This time it was made for the almost 10% of the Spanish population with dyslexia. The first app that promptly detects the risk of dyslexia in children, it was made free and available to anyone. Dytective uses AI and automatic learning algorithms, in combination with language games to gauge children’s cognitive ability. Detection of dyslexia can take months or even years, but Dytective detects clear signs of the problem in just 15 minutes, and at no cost.
The breadth of this scope makes it one that stands out for Alfonso as a strength of this project. “It is something that was developed locally, not only for our tablets but also for the tablets of competitors so it was totally universal, and it was free,” he says. And he adds that because it was developed in Spanish, it could be put to use in the majority of Latin American countries too. “For me, the great success is you can prove that it’s contributing to improving the lives of many people.”
Malcolm stresses how unusual a project like Dytective is. “There are many, many cases where brands will come up with something that's an answer to a real-world problem. The validity of what they come up with, the robustness and the actual effectiveness is often very questionable. And in this case, you know this success rate. The clinically proven success rate of determining dyslexia is as high as any other test method that there is. So this is 100% robust, and it's not something that's made up for headlines of saying we're helping people with dyslexia. It's about unlocking opportunity in society at that level. I think that speaks volumes of the authenticity and the true commitment to society that Samsung has in Spain.”
Samsung Spain and Cheil teamed up again in 2018 to develop ‘Copilot’
, another a free app for smartwatches that permanently tracks the alertness of a driver and warns them before they fall asleep.
Then in 2020 came the most recent crystallisation of Samsung Spain’s values. ‘TALLK’
is an app that allows a patient with the degenerative disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) to access eye-tracking communication technology for free from any Samsung device, as well as gaining the ability to have autonomy thanks to the connectivity of Samsung’s SmartThings IoT technology, allowing them to interact with utilities in their homes. Turning on lights, adjusting the air conditioning or changing channels on the TV, are just some of the ways in which the interface can be used.
The free app turns any camera on a Samsung smartphone or tablet into an eye movement tracker with the ability to turn tiny pupil gestures into words and actions, allowing people who are physically incapable of speaking or moving to keep communicating with their family and friends and control IoT connected devices.
Again, the human impact is what Alfonso finds staggering. He reflects on the “personal stories that families have told me that thanks to this technology, the life of parents or relatives and friends, improved - they can communicate in a certain way, even have a little more freedom, have control of the different devices at home.”
The brilliance of TALLK is that it’s the foundation of something that will only become more empowering as Samsung’s IoT SmartThings range expands. “I think this is a never-ending story,” says Alfonso. “We're committed to continuing to support this. So I'm sure that we will have a lot of output, key takeaways and many more stories in this regard.”
Individually, each of these projects demonstrates a brilliant isolated case study of how Samsung’s technology can have a meaningful impact on people’s lives. But together, they demonstrate that this is a continuous narrative going on at Samsung Spain and Cheil. These are long-term projects that are bubbling away behind the scenes in the intervening years between launches. TALLK, for example, ‘took the company more than two years of research’, says Alfonso.
On the creative side, Cheil’s support runs deep too. Malcolm notes the importance of distilling a project down to something that clearly communicates what it does for society. “You're working with people who are pioneering the actual mechanics of a test in that way. A lot of those people are either coming from an engineering or academic world, and it does take time to mould that into something that is much easier, pleasant or enjoyable to interact with from a consumer side.” He stresses that underneath the hood of some of these projects, the workings are “pretty impenetrable for most people”.
The other key skill is communicating the magnitude of the power of these innovations. “There is a real skill to being able to bottle all of these things in a way that really does justice to the impact they make,” says Malcolm. And they’ve found repeatedly that once that right bottled message is delivered to the right people, the power of the project spreads itself. Year on year, these initiatives have earned themselves coverage in the mainstream media in Spain. “When you have a brand that every year is getting spoken about by the broadcast media in that way, it is just cumulative, year on year as a consumer you hear that Samsung has done this, done that, you can see they're touching people's lives.”
There’s something tangible in Spain about the impact Technology with Purpose has had on the Spanish people and Malcolm has felt it when he’s visited. “It reaches the hearts of Spanish consumers to the point that Samsung doesn't feel like some Korean company. It feels like part of Spanish culture. And that's a big factor and I think, without getting into this week's sales figures or anything, Samsung does enjoy an unfair advantage in connection to the Spanish consumer through hard work, effort and commitment, not through coming out with new colours on the back of the product. It's built that relationship very deeply in such a way that people actually feel something for Samsung.”
Alfonso and Malcolm are well aware of the paper-thin stunts brands pull that claim to make a positive impact for people, but they also both know that with Samsung Spain, the substance is there to back up what they’re claiming. “I will happily put one campaign on the table with a client that has done something meaningful in society before someone puts 10 on the table that were stunts, that were funny for a day,” says Malcolm. “It's pretty important now that the industry has a responsibility to society, not just to award shows. This does both because it's brilliant work. And I don't think I can think of another brand and agency partnership over 10 years that's made such an impact on society. And it’s not about advertising the commitment. It's about committing to the commitment. And I have huge respect for Alfonso in terms of keeping that commitment going, because in any organisation that's a challenge.”
For Alfonso, the driving force behind that commitment comes down to one word that he’s very fond of: legacy. “What will be your legacy for future generations? In the end, you can be sure that in this country, this will be part of Samsung’s legacy.”