Qualcomm building, San Diego
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“Qualcomm: why you love your smartphone,” proclaims the company’s regional ad campaign, the one you may have seen on billboards, at bus stops, or on electric taxi carts around town.

Because how can you love someone you don’t really know?

Because how can you love someone you don’t really know?

Curious: ­an ad campaign that isn’t selling a product, except maybe Qualcomm, Inc. stock (at this writing $52.29 a share). Joe Commuter cannot — no matter how delighted he is by the thought that Qualcomm had made it so his phone is also his camera — exit at the nearest Best Buy and pick up a Qualcomm mobile device. Because Qualcomm doesn’t make mobile devices or anything else that gets sold directly to the consumer.

Nor do they make stadiums. In 1997, the company spent $18 million to put its name on San Diego’s biggest stadium for 20 years. It did wonders for brand awareness, but maybe not so much for brand recognition. When I call, the first thing Qualcomm marketing vice president Susan Lansing asks me is, “Do you know what we do? A lot of people in San Diego have heard of Qualcomm, but they think we’re in some way associated with football. I’ll get into a taxi and tell them I work at Qualcomm, and they’ll ask what it’s like working at the stadium.”

Qualcomm wants to be known, and not just for its Mira Mesa campus — neighborhood? — multifarious structures festooned with the company’s Pantone 286 Blue logo. One of Lansing’s favorite boards reads, “We’re not the name you think of when you think of smartphones, but we’re the smart behind every phone you can think of.” “It’s just a simple way for people to understand that our technology is in smartphones,” she says. “We just feel it’s helpful for people to understand what our contribution is as the creator of the fundamental technologies in the smartphone, especially with regard to 3G and 4G.”

Creating community goodwill.

Creating community goodwill.

Because how can you love someone you don’t really know? And Qualcomm definitely wants to be loved. It has nearly 2.8 million likes on Facebook and 378,000 followers on Twitter, but of course, those numbers could always be higher. And besides, the internet is a vast nothing full of strangers. They have a different campaign aimed at the wider world of “doers” and designers, one full of “what’s next” talk about smart homes, smart cities, what have you. This one is local and looks back on past glories. “The genius behind your smartphone’s smart is a San Diego native,” reads one board, tickling your civic pride and hinting at your shared history. And if you visit the website listed at the bottom, a pop-up immediately asks you to rate your overall impression of Qualcomm. If it’s anything less than “very favorable,” then you’re the target audience.

“We’re just basically creating community goodwill, frankly,” says Lansing. “I think, whether it’s a person or a company, if the meaning and the value is obscured, then it’s hard — it has the potential to lessen the value of how the company is perceived. We want our employees to feel that people understand what they do. That’s validating.” That’s love.

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Comments

Visduh Oct. 26, 2017 @ 3 p.m.

If Qualcomm wanted to be loved, or even recognized in town, it should have taken steps in that direction years ago. Shortly prior to the dot-com market bust, Qualcomm stock went on a tear and many of its employees found their stock so valuable that they were millionaires. In fact, the term "Qualcomm millionaire" was bandied about town for a while when those fortunate folks went out to spend their new-found fortunes. At that time, the company was the local kid company that made good, and was well-thought-of for a time.

A major factor in the Qualcomm success story was the Jacobs family, and how munificently they benefited from the stock run up. Founder Irwin Jacobs and his wife and his sons became major philanthropists. The elder Jacobs made a huge gift to the San Diego Symphony, reported at in excess of $100 million, that should keep that orchestra in fine financial shape into perpetuity. They also made massive grants to other cultural and educational institutions locally. One coup was to have UCSD name its engineering school the Jacobs school. That cost many millions. But while that was going on, the company became a cut-throat competitor and was most aggressive in its licensing practices, and also turned secretive.

While it is now necessary to separate the company from the Jacobs family, Irwin and Paul have not done a good job of being esteemed citizens. Irwin has a plan to remodel Balboa Park that isn't liked by many park users, and despite judicial reversals, the plan may still be alive. His attitude came through as "If I'm going to give $25 million to the park makeover, you'll use my plan, or no dough." Then he and his sons and some other minions at Qualcomm headed into politics, with most noteworthy effort trying to get political party jumper Nathan Fletcher elected mayor. When that didn't work out, they started supporting the current mayor with donations. Money buys power, and that's what they are doing. Not a pretty picture.

Worse yet for the company is its constant complaints of not being able to find enough qualified employees, even though they refuse to interview hundreds of grads of the Jacobs school. Rather they are a large-scale abuser of the H1-b visa system that floods the area with thousands of foreigners and their families, while keeping pay levels depressed. Oh, and Qualcomm makes heavy use of temps to get work done, rather than hiring them as real employees with benefits and job security.

So, if Qualcomm wants to be loved, it needs to stop getting bad publicity with its license holders, unfavorable court decisions and fines in foreign courts, reform its employment practices, and prevail upon the Jacobs family to stop sticking its nose into local politics. Try those things for, oh, five years, and then revisit the matter. Doing right things right would go a very long way to polish the reputation of Qualcomm.

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