Microsoft, Apple and Samsung to launch Christmas advertising blitz

Analysts say digital giants' advertising spend will be on a scale not seen 'outside presidential elections'

Microsoft, Apple and Samsung will lead smartphone and tablet makers in unleashing a $5bn blizzard of advertising in the runup to Christmas, analysts are predicting.

The battle for consumer hearts and wallets began this weekend, with Microsoft preparing for the biggest product launch of its corporate life. The software giant has set aside an estimated $1.5bn to $1.8bn (£1.1bn) for the launch of Windows 8, according to analysts, a sum the media analyst Robert Enderle says "is on a scale you don't see outside presidential elections".

Microsoft has always been big on advertising, but it is being joined now by younger digital titans such as Google that used to sniff at relying on traditional media, having grown rich through clicks and links and word of mouth.

Jeff Bezos once described advertising as "the price you pay for having an unremarkable product", but Amazon's founder has clearly had a change of heart. With tablets and e-readers to sell, his budget has more than doubled, rising from $593m in 2009 to $1.4bn in 2011.

Google has trebled its spend to $1.4bn in three years. Add in the rapidly growing marketing dollars from Motorola, which Google now owns, and the total spend last year was £2.1bn.

Annual reports for eight of the largest technology advertisers, from chip maker Intel to Sony, Samsung, Nokia, Google and Apple, show they spent a combined $15bn promoting themselves in their most recent financial year. Samsung, whose 2011 budget was $2.7bn, spent some of those dollars promoting televisions as well as handsets, and a large chunk of Sony's $4.5bn is reserved for marketing its Hollywood films.

But with promotional budgets growing more than 50% a year at some firms, total spend is likely to be significantly higher this year. Add in the outlay for promoting the arrival of 4G by various network operators, including EE in the UK, and the global spend for all things mobile could well reach $5bn in the final three months of 2012, says Benedict Evans at the research firm Enders Analysis.

"One and a half billion for Windows 8 sounds like a lot of money, but in the context of these companies it seems reasonable and appropriate. Microsoft need to communicate a fundamental change in their platform that is hugely strategically important to them in terms of driving their business into mobile."

With PC sales declining, the software firm is determined to join the portable computing party. Windows 8, reinvented for the touch screen and considered the most radical redesign since the release of Windows 95, goes on sale on Friday, along with Microsoft's Surface tablet. On 29 October, its smartphone software goes live, followed by new Windows phones from HTC, Nokia and others.

Phone-makers such as Nokia and HTC will also benefit from Microsoft's marketing largesse. Having agreed to kill its own operating platform and replace it with Windows Phone, Nokia has been rewarded since October of last year by $250m a quarter in "platform support" money to help promote its handsets.

The sums exceed the amount in royalty fees it is likely to have to pay to Microsoft for using Windows, and HTC is understood to benefit from a similar deal. The money is essential if the smaller players are to take on the combined marketing might of Apple and Samsung, and thereby give Windows a chance of establishing itself as a third operating platform against Android and Apple's iOS.

There is some catching up to do. In the first six months of this year, some 300m Android phones were snapped up, Apple shifted 115m iPhones, and a comparatively paltry 10m Windows phones were sold.

Samsung and Apple will use their superior marketing firepower to retain the top two spots. The South Korean group's major launches of 2012 have already happened, but the Galaxy SIII phone, which now comes in a "mini" size, and its 4G compatible version, will be given the hard sell, as will tablets in various sizes. Samsung may have been ordered to pay Apple $1bn in damages for infringing iPhone patents, but the legal bill will be more than matched by media outlay.

Apple will not be far behind. Its spend doubled from $500m in 2009 to $933m last year, and the Christmas quarter will see it pushing the global rollout of the iPhone 5, the new iPad and the supposedly imminent launch of the iPad mini.

"We've got an unprecedented number of significant launches from vast global players in a short period of time and the combination of those three things is creating this tsunami of advertising," says Shaun Collins at the mobile research specialist CCS Insight. "It's as big a quarter as we've ever seen. The level of commitment each of these players is willing to put behind a mobile launch shows how valuable it could be if they get it right."

The big spenders


Annual advertising spend: $1.6bn

Promoting: Windows 8 software for tablets and PCs, Micosoft Surface tablet, Windows Phone 8 smartphone software


Annual advertising spend: $2.7bn

Promoting: Galaxy SIII smartphone, Galaxy SIII mini smartphone, Galaxy Tab2 tablet


Annual advertising spend: $1.4bn

Promoting: Kindle Fire HD tablet, Kindle Paperwhite e-reader


Annual advertising spend: $1.5bn

Promoting: Nexus 7 tablet, LG Nexus 4 smartphone


Annual advertising spend: $933m

Promoting: iPhone 5, iPad mini, new iPad


Juliette Garside, telecoms correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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