by Al Sacco

The John Mayer-ization of BlackBerry: Celebrity Spokesman, TV Spots and Mascots, Oh My…

Jun 04, 2008 4 mins
Data Center

Research In Motion (RIM), maker of the popular BlackBerry smartphone, which has traditionally been known as a business device, made its first foray into the vast consumer mobile phone space back in 2006 when it debuted the sleek and shiny BlackBerry Pearl 8100. Since then, the company has continued into the land of consumer gadgets, launching the Curve 8300 in May 2007 and its newest device, the Bold 9000, is expected this summer—both of which feature digital cameras, Wi-Fi, and media players.

But it wasn’t until recently—right around the time that the company’s marketing team started targeting TV viewers with new BlackBerry commercials—that I began thinking about the potential effects that this PR and marketing campaign positioning RIM as a consumer-smartphone-vendor could have on RIM and its loyal user base. (Check out one of the new TV spots here.)

image of the BlackBerry mascot

The fact that RIM was attempting to broaden its user base beyond corporate walls became obvious when the company announced last year that it would sponsor singer/songwriter John Mayer’s 40-date North American tour. It’s also worth noting that Mayer later went on to become a full-fledged BlackBerry spokesman, and he even headlined at party at RIM’s 2008 Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES)—a party that, I might add, was a BLAST. But for some reason that still doesn’t seem as significant to me as the new TV commercials, which I first saw in early May on NBC during prime-time hours. If that’s not targeting consumers I don’t know what is.

RIM’s no newcomer to the ad game: my stories on have been surrounded by BlackBerry marketing for years. The company even has a celebrity spokesperson for the CIO crowd: uber IT exec, Dr. John Halamka of Harvard Medical School and CareGroup. In other words, RIM knows what it’s doing when it comes to building product awareness.

But I can’t help but wonder how much of this new consumer push is shaped by Apple’s recent entry into the world of smartphones—and its notable success after only a year. (RIM still has significantly more smartphone market share than Apple, but its position as king of the space is looking less secure.) Those new BlackBerry commercials are strikingly similar to iPod TV spots. And that’s for good reason. They’re targeting the same hot-to-trot consumers…like it or not.

RIM even has mascots in the form of, well, huge, hulking BlackBerrys. And those mascots are now touring the United States and Canada, making appearances at concerts, festivals and Major League Baseball games.

Like those skinny little Virginia Slim cigarettes, RIM has come a long way, baby.

Part of me thinks the company has already secured its position in the enterprise by offering the best handheld/platform/infrastructure combination on the market, and the consumer push can only help it. The potential benefits are clear: an expanded user base; increased sales; more funds for R&D to create new and innovative wares.

But I also can’t help but be wary of the new strategy and what it could do to the BlackBerry-maker’s reputation and brand image.

In the past, RIM was seen strictly as a business-device-maker, and with that image came the connotation of quality: whether right or wrong, true or false, people tend to think business phones are better, stronger, more dependable because executives and others rely on them to do their jobs. As more and more consumers and even teenagers and children pick up BlackBerrys, will enterprises continue to see RIM and the BlackBerry as the

tried-and-true enterprise option? Or will the diffusion of BlackBerry as a corporate brand make it less desirable in the enterprise?

Bottom line: Until another company can offer a comparable alternative to the BlackBerry infrastructure, the bigwigs in Waterloo won’t have much to worry about, at least in the corporate space. But what if Apple steps it up in the enterprise, much as RIM has in the consumer market?

What do you think? Is the “consumerization” of RIM and its BlackBerry a good or bad thing for enterprises? Or is it a non-issue? Why?