BlackBerry has released a rare ad to generate interest in the pre-release of the company’s new mobile phone, the DTEK50, one of three phones that the Waterloo, Ontario company expects to release during the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017.
In the ad, a fresh-faced street interviewer asks passersby if he can “look at” their phone while firing a bunch of intrusive sounding proposals and factoids at them, suggesting that our phones are information-spewing beacons for bad-faith actors and hackers of various stripes to hijack during the normal course of their cybercrime activities.
Note the reaction on the faces of people being interviewed. There’s a smirk on each of their faces while agreeing with the indignant tone of the interviewer, a little like Captain Renault in Casablanca trying to keep a straight face while he shouts that he is shocked, shocked!, to discover that there is gambling going on in this drinking establishment.
The pedestrians accosted by BlackBerry’s pitchman also have the air, on their faces more than in their words, of people who already know the general thrust of the question before it’s even asked.
“Yes, we know,” they appear to be saying. “We know that we’ve been rooked by the social media companies. We’ve given our privacy away in exchange for ease of use and looking at pictures of our friends. We know, okay? What do you want us to do about it?”
The issue for marketers, BlackBerry in this case, comes down to: What sells? Fear or joy?
Marketers have spilled an ocean of digital ink puzzling over the difficulties of selling to Millennials, a generation who, if you believe the hype, doesn’t want to own anything, is willing to share everything from their automobiles to their accommodations, lives on social media, and is largely unconcerned with the consequences of living in a surveillance state.
Stepping into this breach, BlackBerry, not exactly a brand you associate with being particularly being savvy at marketing (when is the last time you saw a BlackBerry ad?), has decided to craft its sales pitch to Millennials through an appeal to fear.
At the BlackBerry 2016 Security Summit on July 19, CEO John Chen brought guest speaker Rudy Giuliani on to the stage, before which he made an awkward joke “assuming everybody here is Republican”, drawing a muted laugh that caused Chen to swallow his own faux pas by taking a swig off a water bottle.
From a comedian’s perspective, it would be difficult to say whether Chen was “killing” or “dying” on stage.
Chen introduced a hoarse voiced Giuliani, who had been in Cleveland only the night before delivering a Hell and Brimstone speech endorsing Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for President, and imploring voters to carry the clown car wing of the Grand Old Party to victory so that it could “make America safe again.”
Millennials will not buy the new phone BlackBerry phone in exactly the same way that they will not be voting for Donald Trump in November.
And then the next morning at the BlackBerry Security Summit, Guiliani spoke about how on September 11, 2001, when the entire communications grid in New York City had gone down, the only things working were BlackBerry phones.
Giuliani’s gratitude for the functionality of these sturdy little Canadian devices in keeping him in the loop with his staff and emergency services on one of the worst days in American history is no doubt sincere.
He also appears to inhabit a world, parallel to our own, which runs mostly, if not on fear itself, then at least on the opportunity to exploit fear for political gain.
Will Millennial voters respond to this technique, either from a marketing or a political perspective?
Will they buy the new BlackBerry phone because Facebook, Google and the NSA knows everything about them, or because some hacker at a Starbucks might be tracking their keystrokes?
The answer to that question, to go out on a limb here, is no. They will not.
They will not buy the new phone BlackBerry phone in exactly the same way that they will not be voting for Donald Trump in November.
Desk phones are becoming smart phones….
The lives of Millennials are driven forward by a handful of motivations, some of which are opaque but which also broadly resemble the things that drive the rest of us forward. One of those things is not fear.
Millennials are not fooled by the suggestion that we have to choose between freedom and security. They know that this is a false choice. And you can see it in the grins on their faces while responding to the BlackBerry pitchman in the DTEK50 ad.
If BlackBerry had to re-shoot their ad for a demographic that might respond more favourably to fear, it would more closely resemble an ad for adult diapers or one of those “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” TV spots.
It also remains a mystery why, at a time when BlackBerry is searching for a way to market its new phones to Millennials, they still have not exploited any of the free publicity generated by one of the company’s biggest fans: Kim Kardashian.
Whether BlackBerry’s strategy works will become obvious by the end of the year. And that is going to determine whether BlackBerry ever makes another phone again.
But a pretty good canary for whether fear works as a marketing tool is also going to be playing itself out around that same time.
If Donald Trump carries the election in November, BlackBerry and the world in general will have a pretty good indicator that, yes, in fact, fear really does sell.
The DTEK50 BlackBerry bundle, with power charger, can be pre-ordered for C$429, or US$299 in the U.S. and Western Europe, and is expected to start shipping the week of August 8, 2016.