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

on February 4, 2013

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?