squeezing blackberries

The following is a guest post by a colleague, Craig Hoffman, former Senior Business Development Officer for NexCen Brands, Inc.  During his tenure, NexCen acquired 9 consumer brands ranging from Bill Blass, The  Athlete’s Foot, and Great American cookie.  He developed a unique brand review that focused on understanding the brand first, then focused on ways to monetize the brand.  Utilizing this approach, he oversaw the research on hundreds of brands as potential acquisitions.

I used to carry a Blackberry…  blackberry-logo

…during the golden age of the Blackberry, when it was first nicknamed the “Crackberry.”  I remember fondly images of people squishing their Blackberries between the window and the window shades on airplanes to get better reception for just that last email before takeoff.  It was a revolutionary device for sure, and RIM did a great job in its development.  Legions of corporate IT staff will only support that device, and more individuals carry it quite loyally.


I hadn’t been paying attention to their advertising for a while, until I heard a recent iPhone commercial.  I heard the Beatles “All you need is love” and then I looked up and saw…

Well, I saw that it was an ad for the Blackberry, not the iPhone.  All I need is love?  For an addicting device?  For the workhorse business device?

It got me thinking about whether Blackberry has lost its way.  It’s not that I don’t like the ads – they seem quite well done, and If the Blackberry is going to change its nature and become the “go to” personal device for folks, that’s great.  It just seems to me that it runs counter to the years of real brand development from RIM.  They have a great hold of an idea in people’s minds already, changing it this way seems to me like they will confuse and lose consumers in the short run.  To win the war with the iPhone seems like it will take an enormous investment.  It seems like it will be exceedingly difficult to make a return on their brand investment for this move.  To my view, they should continue to capitalize on the nature of the BlackBerry as the workhorse and emphasize its versatility. Keep us addicted, don’t try to make us love it.

Lots of smartphones are after the iPhone.  The Droid being the latest hopeful entrant in the war against the fastest gun.  But the Blackberry?  It had always been the anti-iPhone.  Business folks would turn their nose up at the iPhone and say “yeah it does nifty things, but I can’t live without my Blackberry.”  Many reasons would be cited “the keyboard is better,” “the push email is SOO fast,”  or “It synchronizes perfectly with my work machine.”  And yes, the iPhone has made inroads into some of these areas.  But not enough to de-seat the Blackberry.

So I did a quick scan of Blackberry advertising and found that in general, they have been trying to attach to the right idea:  “Be connected, and get your work done, but now you’re at least stylish enough not to feel like a complete dweeb.”  Seems like solid positioning for them.  These are just some easy samples:
Bold Print and Curve Print and Everyone’s Doing It and even slightly Cheeky Ones.

But then there are a bunch that are driving towards the new goal:  Why do you love your BB? And in particular, they are positioning it as a fashionable item, and directly attacking the iPhone:
Favorite Accessory or BB or Bullet? Or how about accessorizing with your Boots.

Admittedly, I’m taking some license here in that all these images are from various campaigns in different countries, and at different times, but still, all the while, “All You Need is Love” is crooning in the background of my mind.  To my eye, a church, borrowing the essence of the Blackberry just nailed the point of a Blackberry:  Just once more?

This new shift of winning the love of people – instead of addicting them seems just off to me. It’s like squeezing blackberries – in theory should be as drinkable as apple juice, but I don’t think people will really like the end product.

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  • i’m so glad craig wrote this post because so many brands try to be things they’re not in order to try to be like others — when they should focus on embracing, celebrating, and maximizing what they are in order to stand out from others.

    it seems we’re not the only ones who think so. in his column on an unrelated topic, ad age’s bob garfield offers the following aside: Why do the folks at Research in Motion — and, by the way, HTC and Palm — insist on promising creative and spiritual fulfillment when what they’re selling is a Swiss Army Knife with a dial tone?

  • Craig

    My pleasure Denise! Watching for these moments is really interesting. I generally applaud brands for big thinking, but sometimes am really surprised that they approach some matters *seemingly* recklessly. Certainly I hope someone at BB has been doing some deep thinking about this, but often times I think things like this “just happen.”

    Another example these days that troubles me from this perspective is the “Via” launch at Starbucks. Another example of trying to be something they are not. I commented on your post here http://deniseleeyohn.com/bites/2009/09/30/its-not-about-the-coffee/ and my thoughts are of a similar tone – while it could work to brand SB as instant coffee – it will likely come at great cost, which has (i) probably been underestimated, if it has been estimated at all and (ii) will likely not be paid back out of profits.


  • Hey Craig,

    Great post.

    I see what Blackberry is doing a little differently. To me, rather than trying to be something it is not, it is firmly marking its turf (or trying, at least), the business communications side of the function-style spectrum. Otherwise, in my view, Blackberry risks becoming the hyper-efficient, flawlessly functional domain of a few ‘dorky’ folks who are “in the know”, (e.g., like a Linux of PDAs) while other devices/technologies fight for the lion’s share of the pie.

    After all, one can hardly leaf through a business magazine lately without coming across adds for the latest business apps for the iPhone promising to help you seamlessly edit that business presentation and shop online on the same device, all while you stream your favorite Pandora station.

    If RIM focuses solely on those of us who care mainly about functionality and efficiency, it will only be a matter of time before the iPhone and others venture farther into BB territory, reducing RIM’s share to a niche.

  • Craig


    Thanks for posting! Cool to see you out here!

    I’ll start by saying – I agree. I do think that its important for BB to reinforce its positioning, and sure up the weakness related to the potential to end up in a “limited case” in the domain of the ‘dorky’ folks. I think you and I are coming from this with a similar viewpoint, but I think we might find some interesting areas of debate surrounding (i) the real risk of that limited case, and (ii) the effect of these ads to protect its own arena from the encroachment of apple vs jumping into apple’s arena.

    (i) I’m not sure that the limited case for BB is to end up in the land of hyper technical people like a linux comparison. It’s currently the go to device for the installed base of corporate users running windows. It has switching costs on its side with respect to this, and it is the giant of that market. While I conceded, they don’t want to rot on the technology vine, I think its a pretty severe assumption that leads to a new device supplanting the BB quickly across installations in the corporate world. It seems to me that it would probably require a catastrophic failure of their R&D and design to end up just a nerdy device of a select few willing to put up with its technical features.

    The PC / Apple hardware and OS debate has shown that the larger market for that is the PC. Which was originally land of the nerdier people. (Of course windows7 is an interesting saga to discuss here – MS is now really aiming straight at apple on this very same point).

    But I agree, they need to protect against this threat – specifically the dying on the tech vine aspect, as that seems a bit more likely to me. Afterall, the Palm owned that space originally, and it was supplanted when the smartphones came around.

    (ii) In my view, the approach they seem to be taking isn’t protection of their core, but rather an assault on apple’s. (Sorry, I have to throw in the occasional pun). I agree that apple does a great job with marketing related to its new business approach. But, their penetration of the space still shows that the consumers just aren’t feeling comfortable with that yet. (Separate debate as to whether apple is actually performing on this point – I personally don’t think they are yet, but admit they are much closer. To me, this is the logical weakpoint for BB to attack – the apple may look good, but it still doesn’t always work.) So it seems to me that spending BB marketing dollars to attack apple’s strength just seems like a low yield investment.

    One of apple’s weaknesses is the BB’s strength – go after that – make ads that highlight the ways an apple still isn’t supported, still doesn’t do what business folks buy for. Incidentally, I’ve the Droid ads are doing *exactly* this – the “idon’t” campaign (http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2009/verizon-droid-idont-do/) or (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e52TSXwj774) are great examples. Now, the Droid’s going straight for the heart of apple – the google faithful are being pitted directly against the apple faithful. BB could get away with something quite similarly, capitalizing on business users faith they can make money reliably (or keep their job!) with the BB and not have to worry. And they can make the BB look sexier while they are at it, adding their own cache in the process.

    I fully support the threat you point out, but just feel that they can deflect that threat and strengthen their brand. I think their approach is more focused on creating positioning that is much more expensive and difficult given the crowded arena. It seems they are chasing a market where profits will be diminishing and spending money to do it! I’d think they’d get better results defending their own ability to make profits with their niche. Without additional capital spent, profits in a smaller niche are not a bad thing to me. Spending more capital to pursue a larger market is often a recipe for no profits, or losses.

    Lots to debate in this, and calling this one early should be a neat test of ideas, as they appear to just be ramping up marketing spend. To my eye, they are losing their way, which will translate to a larger marketing spend that creates (i) a loss of profits for an understood and defensible current brand positioning and (ii) uncertain profits in a larger not as defensible future brand positioning. But I recognize they can’t rest on their laurels as the world is creating change.

    In a funny way, I think they should consider creating a new device to enter into the fray with apple / Droid / Pre / htc. Maybe a blueberry or boysenberry, or raspberry should hit the market. If nothing else, it will make room for a new product called the WhippedCream or PowderedSugar to top it all off. (I call TM dibs on those two BTW).


  • Here’s an interesting story: I worked on BlackBerry 4 years ago at Fallon. The problem for them then wasn’t iPhone – it was that people saw the BlackBerry as a symbol of a work/life balance that was completely out of whack.

    We presented a strategy that was based on the insight that many people (particularly Gen Y) reject the idea of a work/life balance. For these people, work and life aren’t two separate things, they’re one and the more work flows into life and life flows into work the better.

    We also presented a campaign around the theme “BlackBerry Loves” The idea was to show that BlackBerry was a symbol of this one life idea.

    We sold the campaign in through almost everyone in the company except for one very important guy who stepped in at the last minute to kill it. Shortly afterwards we parted ways.

    Not sure if this was the genesis of where they are now but it’s very close. Regardless, the campaign they’re running is solving a completely different problem than the one they have now.

  • fascinating, adrian — i really like the direction you had been working on, as the “one life” idea really reflects my personal experience.

    i think all of this debate is really about how to evolve a brand — that is, how does a brand behave when huge shifts in the way people live and use the brand change? i feel a new post coming on…

  • Craig

    I agree – fascinating indeed. In particular, I give RIM a lot of credit for getting out of in front of the issue. If Adrian worked on this project that long ago, then clearly RIM is thinking – that’s great.

    I look forward to the next post! Sounds like we’re backing into a bit about brand change with the times versus brand extension…

    Protect the core -vs- innovate for the future. How does a brand survive?