Jun 12

The great BlackBerry marketing mess

Excuse my extended hiatus. My journey to Japan and the UK was all-consuming (and tremendously fun). More about that over at my Insanely Simple Facebook page if you wish. Otherwise, it’s back to business here…

RIM's teaser on its UK and Australia sites

It probably wasn’t the plan, but RIM may soon enter the record books for Most Self-Inflicted Wounds By A Market Leader.

After being spanked by iPhone and Android over a period of four years, RIM is fighting back with a marketing campaign. And wow, it’s a doozie.

It started back in April when RIM dispatched its anonymous flash mob to the Apple Store in Sydney, Australia, creating a fake protest with signs reading “WAKE UP.” (See that here.)

I’ll pause for a moment to let you appreciate the irony of RIM telling Apple customers — or anyone on earth — to “wake up.”

Well, it turns out that this tactic was really just the teaser for a new marketing effort unleashed by RIM last month in the UK and Australia. Though Be Bold is the theme, RIM wasn’t bold enough to run these ads in the US.

The campaign launched with a “manifesto” at wakeupbebold.com (and on posters). It’s worth a visit, just to hear the ridiculous voice they insisted on layering over the ridiculous words. As an extra touch, they’ve added traffic noises and footsteps as well — for what purpose, I’m not sure.

I hate to waste valuable electrons on text like this, but if you’re a student of marketing you won’t want to miss this lesson in “what not to say when your brand is in trouble.”

It’s time to mean business.
Now before you go looking for your suit and briefcase, we’re not talking about that kind of business.
Business is no longer just a suit-wearing, cubicle-sitting, card-carrying kind of pursuit.
These days being ‘in business’ means you’re the kind of person who takes action and makes things happen.
You don’t just think different… you do different.
It’s a simple choice:
You’re either here to leave your mark and eat opportunity for breakfast OR you’re satisfied to just float through life like a cork in the stream.
Now, we know some people will choose to float on by and that’s fine.
Being in business is not for everyone, but unfortunately… there is no middle ground. You’re either in business or you’re not.
For those of us with our eyes wides open, we need to realize there’s only one device for people who mean business…
The brand that’s been in business from the very beginning.
Be Bold. BlackBerry.

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. RIM is literally telling you that if you’re in business, if you really have your eyes open, you’ll realize that there’s only one device for people who mean business: BlackBerry.

Never mind that at one time, tens of millions of BlackBerry customers really did believe their device was the best for business. They simply changed their minds when they saw what iPhones or Android phones were capable of.

RIM’s strategy is misguided to the point where it’s almost unimaginable that professional marketers could have conceived it. It’s built on the naive belief that targeting Apple will open people’s eyes — when the company has yet to provide any new technology worth looking at.

Once you get past the horrifying manifesto, there are some ads to look at (on the UK and Australia sites only). Surprisingly, the first one is pretty good. At least it’s good in the sense that it’s nicely produced and fun to watch. Its point is that “There are people who don’t. And people who do.” It’s a decent marketing angle, but given the world’s perception that BlackBerry has fallen eons behind iPhone and Android, it’s an idea devoid of substance — so it comes off as another example of RIM ignoring reality. Take a look:

RIM also offers up a terrible ad devoting to surfing, which simply claims faster browsing, and an ad devoted to NFC purchasing. The latter actually demonstrates a feature that feels new — but both ads feel like they come from a second-tier company. (Insert snide remark here.)

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that RIM is missing two elements critical to its survival as an independent brand: exciting new technology and brilliant marketing. Assuming that it is actually working on the technology, an honest manifesto would be a good way to start.

Attacking Apple, claiming to be the “only device for serious business” and running funny ads is an excellent way to hasten an end that’s looking increasingly inevitable.

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  • nsw

    “Amateur hour is over.”

    Sorry, can’t resist the urge to revisit self-inflicted wound #1.

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  • Saman

    Hi Ken, I actually think this is well executed as a consumer. If I was sitting on the fence or wavering this would keep me with RIM. What they really need to do now is release compelling new products and services and make this the start of a very long multi phased campaign.

  • jbelkin

    Itw ould be interesting to know the circumstance here – is it like ad agency that knows the sure way to win the business to to appeal to the CEO/founder’s ego by insisting only they can represent the brand and must be in the ad – works if it’s Dave Thomas of wendy’s or not when you come off as a d-bag like in the papa john ads … when a company’s ego is not willing to admit they are not the leader of their field anymore and think the ONLY ISSUE is that they their last agency failed them in advertising so they blithely advertise themself as we’re better than ever, you stupid f****. Is that the ad agency nodding their head and encouraging that ‘(you go girl!) to win the business? Is the money green? Who cares what the real issues of the clients brand is? just go ahead and cash the checks? Because if you don’t say yes, someone else will?   

  • It does kinda make sense if you think of it as aimed purely at existing Blackberry users. The message is “Don’t waste your time thinking about switching phone systems, Blackberry is good enough, get back to work!”

  • JV

    A distinguishing mark of outfits that are heading to the brink is the increasing irrelevance and incoherence of their message. Couple that with a surplus of hubris, a lack of common sense and humility and you get the likes of RIM, Nokia, Nintendo et al.

  • I can assure if that voice actually existed in “business”, that business will be out of the world before it was ever in. 
    Seriously… who chose that voice to go with the message..? Not to mention that the message was ridiculous anyway.. but that voice made it sound double ridiculous.. 

  • Samanjj

    What’s ridiculous about the voice? Is it the Aussie accent or the metro tone?

  • Sukumar Roy

    When this reader was with Digital Equip. Corp. (DEC) in late eighties – early nineties
    and it was in the process of going under, all these factors, except the
    first (co-CEO structure), could have been applied.  The only difference
    was that instead of Android and iPhone it was Unix.  Even though it’s
    own VMS was decidedly superior to any other OS in the market, the
    customers wanted Unix and DEC ignored that.  Ironically – perhaps poetic
    justice as well – Unix was developed at Bell Labs on a PDP – a DEC

    There is a saying in my mother tongue and if I try to translate it (will not be the same of course), it may sound
    something like – “I take your own pestle (and mortar), and break your teeth”!

    like déjà vu to me – all over again!!  It is all over again because
    companies (read CEOs) become so arrogant that they think that they do
    not have to learn from history.  They always think that they do not have
    to learn anything and they know everything.  I would think that every CEO
    should ponder every
    day how other companies – particularly those within own industry – have
    disappeared.  Then chances are that CEOs can make some good
    strategic decisions by learning from other’s mistakes.

    old adage still applies:
    He who knows not; and knows not; he knows not.  He is a fool.  Avoid him.

    is too late for RIM to “avoid” their co-CEOs.  If the RIM board had
    fired (read – avoided) the co-CEOs at least five years earlier, they
    could have had a chance.

  • robroberts2009

    Ken, I have translated RIM’s new as campaign for you:

    Dear Apple, why have you killed us?
    We were perfectly happy selling 90’s era technology
    until you came around and kicked our ass

    But we’ve turned desperation into inspiration!
    Lets produce a bad copy of Apple’s Think Different campaign …
    But instead of basing it on fundamental truths,
    lets just jumble together a badly written litany of
    Meaningless cliches and hackneyed phrases and feeble observations …

    Dammnit Apple, on secondnthought, will you buy us

  • Nothing against the accents… but the tone sure doesn’t sound business-like.. you gotta have a more serious and deep voice to go with messages like this… the current one is more like a college guy asking for burger and soda in the canteen…  

  • Dmitri

    Hi Ken,
    Great article as usual. I saw the “wake up” campaign and shocked and disturbed by it. The problem is, as you note, that they don’t have any actual mind-blowing products to back up their big talk. Which in fact, has been their problem for a while. 

    I liked the “doer/not-doer” ad,  but again, the problem: Unlike the “Think Different” campaign, which was (as you note in your book) an authentic expression of Apple’s spirit, these “Amateur hour is Over”/”Wake Up”/”Get back to Work” campaigns are NOT authentic expressions of RIM’s deepest nature. So to anyone who’s been following along, they seem deeply ironic. And for anyone who hasn’t been, there’s still no reason to go (or stay) with Blackberry. 

    It would be nice if you could simply pay an ad agency to think up a declaration and have it be congruent for your company, but this stuff starts at the top, and inauthenticity will only work for so long. With RIM it just sounds like so much hot air. 

  • Dmitri

    And Ken, 2 more quick things –

    First, just noticed that Parade Magazine suggested Insanely Simple as a good summer read: “This thought-provoking read reveals the method to the madman’s success.” (As an author myself, I know that the author often doesn’t find out about such things, so I’m giving you the heads-up.)

    Second, the RIM post got me thinking — what COULD an agency do for RIM that would actually be helpful? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • ksegall

    Yes, I’m aware of Parade’s summer reading guide. They have very good taste! 

    As for what RIM’s agency could actually do … that’s a tough one. Obviously this isn’t just a marketing problem. No ad campaign can change things by itself. RIM needs to reaffirm its commitment to the corporate world and deliver amazingly good products. Unfortunately, the company has put itself in this situation by failing to compete with iPhone and Android for the past 3-4 years. By doing so, RIM has communicated that it doesn’t “get it” as effectively as a good campaign might communicate that it does. Now it has to dig itself out of such a large hole, we can legitimately wonder if it’s even possible for this damage to be reversed.

    I think we’ll soon be adding RIM to the list of companies who have squandered what was once an insurmountable lead.

  • Dmitri

    Thanks Ken!

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