May 11

PlayBook’s bad ad: it takes a village

When you see a particularly painful headline out there, it’s easy to blame the writer.

However, every ad — good or bad — has a long list of accomplices, without whom it could never, ever see the light of day.

The bad headline I focus on today is the one that RIM has proudly wrapped around their new PlayBook tablet: Amateur hour is over.

Let us first admire the irony of it.

Just Google “PlayBook review” and pick a review at random. There’s an 80% chance it’ll be a negative one. Clearly, the overall sense is that PlayBook is missing too many important features to be a serious choice — especially for business people, for whom it was supposedly designed.

The fact that Playbook is incapable of doing email without connecting to a BlackBerry is a shortcoming beyond imagination.

The inappropriateness of a half-finished tablet being released under the banner Amateur hour is over is obvious. What fascinates me is how things like this come to be.

Like the good ol’ U.S. Constitution, agencies are built on a system of checks and balances. While creative people are encouraged to go wild and break all the rules, they’re rarely trusted with the keys to the car. There is a system in place to ensure that an ad can’t run if it is (a) bad, (b) off-strategy or (c) legally risky.

The approvals process varies by agency, but a major ad campaign normally must navigate quite an obstacle course. It would have to get by at least one creative director, the account director, strategy people and probably a senior agency executive as well. That’s before it even gets to the client, who has their own winding road of approvals leading up to the VP of Marketing and CEO.

Given this, it’s nothing less than mind-boggling that a campaign can make it out into the world when it’s carrying a flashing neon sign that says “please kill me.”

Against a nearly perfect competitor — a slick, polished, 2.0 iPad — and lacking basic business functionality, RIM positions PlayBook as a business device under the theme Amateur hour is over.


It’s also damning. Because the entire conga line of approvers who had to sign off on this should have known better. It’s as much a lapse in common sense as it is a lapse of strategy.

So I leap to defend my fellow writer, the person who came up with these unfortunate words. Maybe it was just a bad hangover. A sprawling organization of marketing people, agency and client, can take credit for RIM’s latest black eye.

That having been said, the whole bunch of them should send a note down to RIM’s engineering department with the message: “please don’t do that again.”

  • Couldn’t agree with you more. On a related note, I don’t understand why corporations like RIM feel like they need to stick around forever when they clearly have no more place in the world. Wouldn’t it be better for them to shut down RIM with pride, distribute the company’s value amongst all the shareholders, and pat themselves on the back for a “job well done” in the 90’s? Why must they insist on moving forward when their role in the world is clearly over?

  • Bmcfadden

    Well i have observed that hypocrisy often accompanies failure; thus Amateur Hour is Over is the perfect motto for Rim and its Playbook.

    By the way have you seen the TV ads for Playbook? They show nothing but games and J Lo videos; the viewer is left wondering what, if anything, the Playbook has to do with productivity or business. Clearly Rim suffers from a terrible case of Apple envy, yet is totally clueless about what really differentiates the iPad2.

  • ken segall

    @Scott Rose:
    It’s definitely tough to watch your leadership position fade. It’s human nature (or corporate nature) to want to show the world you’re not finished yet, that you can lead as you once did. Unfortunately, RIM isn’t doing a very good job of demonstrating it. Apple didn’t give up in 1997, when they were closer to bankruptcy than RIM is today. Then again, they had a leader with some vision.

    You are so right about RIM’s schizophrenia. Naming this tablet the PlayBook is dubious enough, given that they’re focusing on the business market. But showing all this fun stuff in the ads just reinforces the fact that the business positioning is simply RIM hanging onto the one advantage they have (or had). The problem for RIM is that the business world is shifting away from the model where IT departments get to make unilateral decisions. More and more, companies are trying to give employees what they’re asking for. The idea that a business person wants a purely business tablet is as silly as the idea they’d want a purely business phone. We may have jobs, but we’re human beings too— with families and interests. Given that apps can be for business or pleasure, all we really want is a beautifully designed tablet that can be whatever we want it to be. Now who’s making one of those these days….

  • yetanothersteve

    “Amateur Hour is Over” would be a great headline extolling the virtues of dumping Flash!

    I hadn’t seen this headline and was rolling at your graphic.

    I’m not an ad guy but I know one of the cardinal rules of messaging it that it has to be “believable”…

    Not just unfinished either… I’ve seen two separate recall stories this week…

  • Mike Petty

    Reading this piece reminded me how lucky I was (a lot of the time) to have worked at some pretty good shops, but most of all at (then) McKinney Silver & Rockett in the early 80’s. I was the Acct. Supv. on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line account. Our creative approval & presentation process was simple. Chick McKinney (or one of the other brilliant people there) would develop an ad…tell me, “go sell this, son”…I went directly to the EVP Marketing at RCCL and did so. Everybody trusted everybody else. That’s how we dialed out classic print ads like the “Bathtub”ad. Rare process – Great creative.
    In the Six Degrees of Separation Dept…I was eventually hired as VP Marketing at RCCL where we then hired Chiat/Day as our agency. The creative development/approval process there was not so…streamlined.