Way back yonder in journalism school, oh, about two decades ago, there was a funny division of students. In the undergraduate program, you had to choose a specialty stream at the halfway point of your four years. In those halcyon pre-Internet days, that meant picking either broadcast, magazine or print. The problem was, the first two accepted very few students, so those who didn’t get in were shunted off to print where the majority of unwashed journalism students resided.
As a result, there were a good number of disgruntled wannabe broadcast and magazine students in print, but a good portion of us were also hardcore newspaper fans for whom the stream was the first and only choice. We jokingly considered broadcast students to be shallow people who only wanted to be on TV, while magazine students and their high-falutin’ big words and surfeit of adjectives were just artsy hipsters. To us, the people who were “print by choice” were the only real journalists.
As funny as those youthful days now seem, it’s doubly humorous to see a large company adopting that same sort of borderline immature stance in its marketing. If you follow the smartphone field, you’ve probably recognized that I’m talking about Research In Motion’s “BlackBerry by choice” campaign.
Earlier this year, RIM insisted that many of its woes stemmed from poor marketing—that it simply wasn’t doing a good job at pointing out all the positives of BlackBerry. To that effect, the company went out and hired a new chief marketing officer, Frank Boulben, to fix the image problem.
Boulben doesn’t appear to be doing a very good job, if the recent New York Times story about how BlackBerry users are ashamed of their outdated devices is anything to go by—not that the company has given him much to work with, what with the continued delays of next-generation devices. The “BlackBerry by choice” slogan, propagated on Twitter as a hashtag, is one of the company’s responses to that story, which suggested the only reason people still use BlackBerrys is because their employer forces them to. (Note: the slogan originated on Crackberry.com, but has since been propagated by RIM.)
It’s too bad that it’s exactly the wrong kind of sound bite. Marketing 101 dictates that you generally don’t point out your own product’s shortcomings in your own advertising, yet saying that users are there “by choice” highlights a sort of defiance against something many find more desirable. Whether it’s the broadcast stream of a journalism program or an iPhone, proclaiming that you’ve chosen something that isn’t very popular also highlights the fact that there may be reasons for why it isn’t popular in the first place.
In the case of print journalism, it was perhaps the lack of fame or inability to be creative that made print the less desirable choice. In the case of BlackBerry… well, take your pick. We might have gained some points for being rebels, but in the long run we knew we were saddled with everyone else’s second choice. That’s the reality RIM’s slogan/hashtags highlights.
Some of RIM’s other messaging efforts, such as BlackBerry4Life (a motto borrowed from pro wrestling, by the way) or ProudToBeTeamBlackberry are positive slogans that don’t also point out the looming negative. If marketing really is at the core of RIM’s problems, efforts such as the “by choice” campaign aren’t going to make things any better.