Can a $200 Million Marketing Campaign Save Blackberry?


– By Hanah Van Borek

The big comeback: this has been much anticipated from the company formerly known as RIM. Blackberry, the organization’s new name as part of its branding overhaul, is pulling out the big guns to compete in a market that is widely saturated with Samsungs and iPhones.

Blackberry has injected a whopping $200 million into its recent launch of the Z10, a phone similar in shape to the iPhone 5 with a wide touch screen, high-res camera, video chat, its own custom apps and other standard smartphone features, bringing it finally up to par with the rest of the smartphone market.

Online reviews reveal that the phone itself has been generally well received. It has its appeal as the black, sleek, alternative device. The fact is that Blackberry’s late to the game. The issue for this comeback boils down to this: your cereal just hit the market and basically looks, tastes, and prices the same as Cheerios. How do you convince people to eat your cereal when everybody’s already eating Cheerios?

Watch Blackberry’s Superbowl ad and their strategy will become clear. They emphasize what the Blackberry can’t do, impossible feats, rather than focus on what it can do, which I guess is everything else? Blackberry’s decided to move the focus away from the phone itself and instead put a spotlight on the brand story behind it.

Here’s another way to get them buying your cereal, bring in an artistic icon to promote it, like Alicia Keys. Keys has been brought on as Global Creative Director for Blackberry. Part of her role will be creating original content for the phone. Ironically, her latest album produced the lowest opening sales since she began her musical career. Maybe a music video created with the Z10 will make the difference. Nevertheless, the songstress has strong brand appeal that the company hopes to harness to capture new followers and re-engage old ones.

There are many other components to this marketing marathon including of course the use of social media as well as mobile marketing, online ads and various PR stunts.

You have to appreciate Blackberry’s efforts in this heavy artillery approach but they may have missed the boat with consumers who are likely more interested in what the phone can do. The Z10 isn’t a generic supermarket cereal, it has real potential as its own distinct device. If it had focused more energy on actual features of the phone, Blackberry may have caught attention from more smartphone users than marketing critics.

Their time would be better spent highlighting their unique interface, operating system and apps than on the many different slogans they have developed and repurposed for this campaign. There is Be Bold, Keep Moving, and one that I’m not convinced is a good thing for their brand, We Need Tools Not Toys.

A few years ago when Apple began to really pull the rug up from Blackberry and the former RIM’s shares began to plummet, Apple had the edge because the iPhone is a lifestyle product. Blackberry was pegged as the “work phone”. Now through its various ads with artistic collaborators, Blackberry promises to be the fun device for the creative class but yet they’re emphatic that this phone is not for play. These conflicting messages blur Blackberry’s message, achieving the reverse of its objectives.

Thus far, Blackberry’s marketing initiatives have been a flop. With everything they have invested, one can only hope that their stocks make the much needed comeback when the phone hits the US market on March 22, 2013. Despite being less than impressed with their campaign, I can’t help but root for our Canadian competitor making its brave final stand.

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