It's do-or-die time for BlackBerry and its eponymous phones, and so, a big marketing push is underway.
BlackBerrys were once known as CrackBerrys, so addictive were they to use. They were the phone for enterprises because of superior push email and security. And both business users and consumers (including me) loved the phones for their easy-to-use keyboards.
In 2007, however, Apple changed the game with its iPhone, an object of desire that single-handedly sparked the bring your own device (BYOD) movement in enterprises and soon employees began rebelling against corporate BlackBerrys.
The rebellion is accelerating, and now, BlackBerry's progenitor is finally fighting back with new handsets and marketing strategies. It even changed its name from Research In Motion to BlackBerry, which makes sense given how dimly aware consumers are of the RIM name. And, the firm is betting on two new phones. The Z10 sports a 4.2-inch touch screen and the Q10 a 3.1-inch touch screen plus the iconic physical keyboard.
BlackBerry's mass market coming-out party was a 30-second commercial shown during the Super Bowl, but to what effect? It showed a Z10 user sprouting flames, growing elephant legs, bursting into multiple colors, and stopping a jack-knifing tanker truck that exploded into toy ducks. The only voiceover was at the end: "In 30 seconds, it's quicker to show you what it can't do. The new BlackBerry Z10."
BlackBerry's new CMO, Frank Boulben, told the CrackBerry blog that the commercial had two objectives: highlight that "BlackBerry is back" and encourage viewers to check out the Z10. View the commercial for yourself, but for me, the ad didn't accomplish either objective.
As I see it, BlackBerry wasted millions of dollars telling people what the Z10 can't do. In fact, BlackBerry probably shouldn't have even run a Super Bowl commercial. The Z10 won't be available in the US until March, and the Q10 a month or two after that. Even if the enigmatic commercial were a hit (it wasn't), the buzz will likely be gone by the time the Z10 is actually available in the US market.
Good news, though: The commercial's theme won't be carried over to BlackBerry's global marketing push, which is branded as "Keep Moving." CrackBerry says ads will emphasize new features, such as the well-reviewed predictive touch keyboard, picking the best photo among multiple similar shots, and quickly "peeking" at messages.
To me, this makes good sense. Potential purchasers need to understand clearly how BlackBerry 10 models are superior to iPhones and Androids.
However, the success of another marketing strategy -- employing three celebrities -- could be a challenge. Singer-songwriter and actress Alicia Keys will be the company's new global creative director. Keys is supposed to help enhance the BB10 platform and inspire its use for creativity. She'll also use a BlackBerry to shoot videos during her concert tours.
Two other celebs are involved, too: Fantasy-horror writer Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Coraline) and movie director/screenwriter Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids). Gaiman will write 12 short stories for A Calendar of Tales collection, using Twitter to solicit inspirational ideas and illustrations for an actual calendar.
CMOs have been paying celebrities for endorsements for decades, but it's still a crapshoot as to which endorsements will enhance or harm a company's sales or image. For BlackBerry's sake, let's hope Alicia Keys does a better job than Lady Gaga did as creative director for Polaroid. Perhaps if Keys is photographed frequently using her BlackBerry, it will encourage admirers at least to look at the new phones. She enjoys more than 11.8 million Twitter followers. Gaiman: merely 1.8 million followers, but major street cred among techies. If Gaiman enthusiastically praises the Z10, it should generate strong interest.
But no amount of photo ops with Keys or tales from Gaiman are going to lift BlackBerry's fortunes if its new products aren't up to snuff. Technically, they hold great promise, but unless the reborn RIM can get that message across, consumers may just keep moving to Apple and Android.