BlackBerry’s Super Bowl Ad Was Awful. Is There An Ad That Could Have Worked?

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 5.22.01 AMI’m a big Redskins fan, so when people asked who I was rooting for in the Super Bowl, they didn’t know whether I’d choose San Francisco (a city I visit so often I’m practically a resident) or Baltimore (a city not far from where I grew up). Still, I don’t think anyone was expecting my answer: I was rooting for BlackBerry. I knew that the company had a big ad planned for the game, and while I’ve been using the phone since before its launch last week, BlackBerry had not shown me its marketing campaign. I like the Z10. I like the people at BlackBerry. I like competition in the industry – it’s good for consumers and, to be completely honest, it’s good for my client base. I was rooting for BlackBerry to win. But my team lost – and it was a blowout.

If you missed the ad, here’s a link.

Summary: a man walks down the street using a BlackBerry Z10, random wacky things happen, and an announcer intones, “in 30 seconds, it’s quicker to show you what it can’t do. The new BlackBerry Z10.”

This ad is not as bad as Palm’s webOS ads where a vampire uses mind control on people doing tai chi or Sony Ericsson’s 2011 Super Bowl ad with dismembered thumbs; those were not just bad, they were creepy. I’m sure the BlackBerry folks in Waterloo love their ad – how couldn’t they? It says that the Z10 is so awesome that there’s no point in describing how awesome it is! Plus, it has a jackknifed tractor trailer turning into rubber duckies! That’s cool, right?

There are two problems with the ad:
1. The cardinal rule for successful technology marketing is to sell benefits, not features. This ad does not even sell the features! It just promises that there are features in there somewhere. (What are they? Who knows. Why should you care? No idea.)

2. BlackBerry is in serious trouble – it needs great marketing. John Kirk is correct; attacking Apple and Google head on once they have established their platforms is suicide. Running a $3.7 million ad that says, “we do lots of stuff,” is a waste of money. You know which other phones do a lot of things? More things than BlackBerry 10? Apple iPhones and Google Android phones.

Ouch. Is There A Way for BlackBerry To Succeed?

First, let’s define success. BlackBerry 10 does not need to propel the company back to its market share peak; if that is the short term standard for success, there is no hope. The smartphone market is now much larger than when BlackBerry was king; to be successful, the company needs to reverse its subscriber declines, and return to profitable growth. (The same is true for Nokia and Motorola.) If BlackBerry gets that far, its next challenges will be broadening the line to allow its base of BBM-centric Curve users in emerging markets to upgrade, and carving out a unique space with application developers and service providers so that the BlackBerry 10 gets unique apps and experiences first, not after iOS and Android.

However, getting there is an enormous challenge. BlackBerry is not a safe choice for consumers. It cannot compete with the depth and breadth of Apple and Google’s mature ecosystems. It’s not just that BlackBerry’s ad forgot to explain why anyone should buy a BlackBerry; the company seems to assume that as long as it builds a decent product, everyone will flock to it. (That was probably true in 2008, before Android was a juggernaut, but RIM missed that window. The BlackBerry Storm was not a decent product.) Today, building a good product is not good enough, because there is nothing broken in iOS or Android that BlackBerry 10 fixes.

Instead, BlackBerry needs to narrow its focus – and its message – to consumers who share its brand heritage: an obsessive, almost compulsive need for real time information and control. Amazingly, the BlackBerry 10 platform actually does prioritize these brand attributes, with the Hub, the core peek gesture, unique virtual keyboard, and the Reminder app. There are some off-message features, too, but on the whole, BlackBerry 10 was designed with a clear user in mind. The ad wasn’t.

The smartphone market leaders make excellent products and have tremendous supply chain execution, but they really set themselves apart in their marketing. Apple sells beautifully designed products that “just work” to people who believe they deserve just that. Samsung sells phones with the world’s best displays to people who don’t think of themselves as hipsters. Microsoft initially tried selling Windows Phone by focusing on a similar productivity-oriented message, but it botched the execution with ads that showed how much people loved their iPhones and Android phones. Today, Microsoft is mostly trading on celebrity endorsements, distinctive physical design, and remaining positive Nokia brand associations in Europe.

BlackBerry needs to get people who identify with its brand characteristics to buy a Z10 instead of an iPhone or Android phone, whether they owned a BlackBerry in the past or not, and whether they are security-conscious business users or soccer moms. It will not succeed by selling features, either. BlackBerry should not sell what the product does, it should sell why it does it.

The BlackBerry brand is damaged in the U.S., this is a complicated message, and you’ve only got one Super Bowl to do it. So don’t start by handicapping yourself with a 30 second window. Pony up, and give yourself 60 seconds of breathing room. It can be creative or simple, but the ad needs to reintroduce the brand, acknowledge past mistakes, explain the promise of the new platform, and ask like-minded consumers to join the tribe. Here’s my version:

Remember BlackBerry? [Show pictures of movie characters using BlackBerries, celebrities, and President Obama] We made the first smartphones, and empowered people to stay connected wherever they were and to keep on top of what drives them.
[blank screen] But we lost our way. Browsing, apps, and big touchscreens are important, and Apple and Google came and did those things well. Most people think that’s good enough. For most people, it is. But for people like us, there’s something missing.
So we started over.
[show features] The BlackBerry Z10 has a great browser and a beautiful screen. It has a store that sells 70,000 apps, music, and movies. But BlackBerries are created by and for people who believe in always seeing a message the second it arrives. On the Z10, all your email, text, and social network messages are in one place, and you can peek in on them without leaving your game, map, or movie. Our keyboard is amazing – type a few letters, and BlackBerry will suggest the whole word. And that’s just the beginning.
[text reads: BlackBerry Z10. Available soon at AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile]
Not everyone needs to be in control like this. But we do. And if you’re like us, it is time to join the BlackBerry tribe.

That’s my BlackBerry ad. What’s yours?

Published by

Avi Greengart

Avi is the Research Director for Consumer Devices at Current Analysis. He is responsible for the Mobile Devices and Digital Home Devices groups, including CurrentCOMPETE (market, company, event, and device competitive analysis) and Wireless Tracking (pricing, promotions, availability, and device feature data and analysis) content.

23 thoughts on “BlackBerry’s Super Bowl Ad Was Awful. Is There An Ad That Could Have Worked?”

  1. “The cardinal rule for successful technology marketing is to sell benefits, not features. This ad does not even sell the features!”

    Thank you for writing this article, Avi. The Blackberry add was JUST AWFUL.

    I only judge an ad by one criterion – did it sell product. Not only didn’t this add sell benefits or features, it didn’t even increase name recognition. I very much doubt if most people who watched this ad even realized that there was a wholly new Blackberry on the market.

    When you see an add like this, you have to wonder if Blackberry is suffering from “The Emperor has new clothes” syndrome. Any independent voice would have told Blackberry that this add made no sense. But when everyone around you says that the Emperor’s new clothes are gorgeous (even though you can’t see them yourself) you begin to parrot their views and perhaps even fool yourself into believing their views. As if Blackberry didn’t have enough problems already, this ad seems to suggest that they’ve lost their ability to think about Blackberry objectively. And that can’t be a good thing.

    1. What feature did the Apple “1984” ad sell? And that is considered one of the best ads, not just of the Superbowl, but of all time.

      Sometimes making a big splash might be a valid goal. It remains to be seen if this ad does anything positive for Backberry.

      1. The 1984 ad did not sell a feature but it had a very clear message: Mac is the anti-corporate computer (vs. the corporate IBM PC.) That message proved to be blessing and a curse for Apple over the years, but it definitely was clear.

        I’m still not sure what the takeaway from the BB ad was supposed to be.

      2. “What feature did the Apple “1984” ad sell?” – qka

        There are many different types of ads. Branding adds don’t sell features but are still very effective. However, I did not feel that the BlackBerry add touted features nor did I see a strong branding message. When you see the BlackBerry add, what is your takeaway? How did it make you feel?

        The famous 1984 ad grabbled your attention, fascinated and intrigued you. Did the BlackBerry ad do any of that?

  2. I couldn’t DISAGREE more!

    Initially I also wasn’t sure I liked their ad at all, but after watching it a couple of times, I now think it’s very clever. By not doing the norm and cramming as much phone info in 30 seconds, they instead create the opposite feeling that there’s nothing the phone could do….kind of makes you interested…

    …after researching a little bit I very quickly realized what a cool phone this really is and most importantly what potential it has.

    I think their ad “will” end up being a hit after all and creating the needed buzz – by the fact that it is seemingly crap!

    1. So bad it’s good? That’s an interesting theory. That’s my feeling about the GoDaddy ads – they were designed to generate controversy, which increases GoDaddy’s brand recognition in a commodity business. They do this every year, and it’s clearly working for them. But that certainly wasn’t the intention here. It is clear — both from the ad itself and from BlackBerry’s CMO comments at the launch last week — that BlackBerry is in Field of Dreams mode. If BlackBerry just builds a good product, people will flock to it. Even if the ad agency knew better, it had a tough task. How do you rehabilitate a brand that management doesn’t think is broken? They punted and created an ad that looks exciting, praises the product, and makes management happy.

    2. The key problematic phrase is “after researching a little.” It’s a lot to expect that casual potential buyers are going to go out an research your product after you have failed to deliver a clear message about what it is and can do.

      1. Or why it needs to exist in the first place. I do think that there is room for another player, and I think you could convince a subset of consumers to identify with an experience that is significantly different if you gave them a reason to do so. But if you don’t, nobody will care, because people are not waiting for someone to save them from Apple and Google. They LIKE Apple and Google.

          1. People on the Internets are always angry. Talk to real people and look at retention rates: Android’s repurchase rates are high. Apple’s repurchase rates are astronomical. Yes, people like iOS and Android – quite a bit.

          2. I read this the other day about explaining the biggest achievement of today to a visitor from the 1800’s:

            “In my pocket I have a device that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man.

            I use it to look at funny pictures of cats and argue with strangers.”


          3. I read that tweet too and it was insightful, hilarious and profoundly sad, all at the same time.

    3. “…kind of makes you interested…” – David

      If the Ad “kind of makes (one) interested” in learning more about the product then it served its purpose. It did not have that effect on me. The ad left me baffled and bewildered. But perhaps I am not the average consumer.

  3. I still want a Blackberry phone (Q10 please) but the company is doing its best to kill whatever momentum it has. Between the commercial and Alicia Keys, I think I’ve given myself a concussion from facepalming.

  4. One thing they did poorly that Apple almost always does well and of the Android crowd only Samsung does (but still not as well as Apple) is show the product and show what the product does (like the FaceTime ads). You pretty much only saw that the guy was (presumably) holding the new BB and weird things happening. But nothing tying the events or his responses to the device.


    1. Apple and Samsung are both good at selling the benefits of the features, not simply showing off the features themselves. This is a relatively new development for Samsung, and it’s extremely impressive. But this BlackBerry ad did not even try to show off the features and hope that consumers would infer the benefits on their own.

  5. Jefferies analyst Peter Mizek says the white Z10 is sold out in a number of stores in the UK. Pre-orders for the Z10 have also been strong in Canada and the United Arab Emirates.

    1. Yes, there are BlackBerry fans in the UK, UAE, and especially Indonesia who do not need an introduction to the brand. We’ll see if there are enough high end consumers in those markets to sustain BlackBerry sales after the initial pop. I don’t think there are. I suspect that BlackBerry doesn’t, either, which is why it spent $4 million to air a Super Bowl ad aimed at U.S. consumers.

      FWIW, in Canada BlackBerry is using a completely different ad: It shows snippets of the features but still avoids explicitly stating the brand promise.

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