Almost nine months after being named as chief marketing officer at Research In Motion Ltd., Frank Boulben attempted to bring a whole new BlackBerry to the world. At the unveiling of the BlackBerry 10 in New York this week, he and the executive team changed the name of the entire company; tapped a pop star as global creative director; and launched a campaign that is the firm’s long-time ad agency’s one chance to impress. As he faces a chilly reception on the stock market, and a ramped-up marketing battle to remake a brand that has lost immense value, Mr. Boulben spoke to The Globe and Mail about what the future holds for his company.
You are running your first-ever Super Bowl ad this Sunday. It’s a major investment. Why was this the right time?
In the U.S. we’ve been suffering in terms of market share lately. So it’s important for us to signal for U.S. consumers that BlackBerry is back and there’s something worth checking out in BlackBerry 10. There’s no better platform to do that than the Super Bowl. The timing is great. We can reach more than 100 million Americans at once.
Is it a marketing challenge – having a big unveiling event and airing a Super Bowl ad, a full month before the device comes to U.S. consumers?
Yes. And the way we are addressing it with our carriers is by building up pre-registration … so that when the device is in stores, we will have through those marketing activities starting with the Super Bowl, already accumulated significant pent-up demand via those pre-registration databases.
Talk to me about your new campaign – how is the relationship with your ad agency?
We’ve kept AMV BBDO. They’ve been working with us for quite some time. And it’s a great agency, so when I joined I threw the gauntlet on to them, telling them, ‘I’m not going to do a competition [for the ad account] right now. We’re already in the preparatory phase of the launch of BlackBerry 10, so prove yourselves to me and we’ll take it from there.’ And I think they’ve done a great job with the Keep Moving execution.
What’s the central message you’re hoping to convey with the new Keep Moving campaign?
We put the product experience at the centre of the campaign. You have explicit shots of the screen; you see key features, key gestures. That’s something you will see in all of our marketing executions, showcasing the product experience.
Does this represent a shift in the tone of your marketing?
The marketing I inherited was really fragmented … There were so many different creative frameworks in different countries around the world. There was no consistency whatsoever … The important aspect here is to have a creative framework that we will consistently apply and implement everywhere, and that is going to stay with us for some time. It’s not a three-months’ creative framework. In my experience as a CMO, a good marketing framework can last up to two years. You don’t change it at every campaign.
Tell me about the re-branding of the corporate name from RIM to BlackBerry. Why was this the right time?
The BlackBerry brand is a global iconic brand. The company, outside of North America, is known as BlackBerry. I’m talking about the larger public, obviously. Not reporters, analysts, or people working in tech. For the general public, ‘RIM’ and ‘Research In Motion’ are unknown outside of North America. Secondly, before the re-branding, we had a situation where we were becoming more and more a house of brands, with Research In Motion, BlackBerry, Bold, Curve, Torch, etc. I did a survey around the world. There were a significant proportion of customers not attributing Bold and Curve to BlackBerry. That dilutes a brand. These were pure marketing considerations. And we’ve been through, in the last year and it’s continuing, considerable changes: change of management, change of technology platform, completely reviewing all of our processes and introducing new devices. So I felt it was the perfect time to accompany real change by symbolic change.
You named Alicia Keys global creative director – a title usually associated with advertising executives. What will she actually do?
She’s a genuine BlackBerry fan and she very early on told us she’d like to do more beyond the first Keep Moving project, and work with us on new ways to, quote-unquote, program the brand; new ways to be in [the] market, to be in the entertainment industry, in the way we communicate and engage with customers. It was not me saying, ‘I want to appoint a global creative director that will be an ambassador for the brand.’ As we worked with her, we realized that there was a lot more we could do together.
Will she help conceive of advertising or marketing?
No. What we will do with her will be more innovative, not the traditional marketing or advertising campaigns.
The author Neil Gaiman and director Robert Rodriguez are involved too. Are you trying with these partnerships to position the brand as a bit more creative – a cachet other smartphone brands have?
The idea is they are people of action, very connected. They multitask. They do many projects at the same time. So they are the perfect fit for what the BlackBerry 10 is designed for. We look at them not strictly as artists, but also as small business entrepreneurs. And to show through their activities how the new experience with BlackBerry 10 accompanies them in day-to-day life and helps them achieve their goals. That’s the angle. You will see us doing that moving forward with people who are not artists; people in other categories as well. What we are doing with the Kielberger brothers in Canada on the humanitarian side, we will continue and work with them in the same spirit.
Mr. Heins, when he came on as CEO, said it was a priority to find a CMO and take the marketing in a new direction. How will this actually happen now?
In several ways. The first is consistency – across geographies, and also consistency in time. We are not going to switch from one creative framework to another every quarter. Second, the experience we deliver in our product and services has to be central … You will see very little brand advertising. You will see a very strong emphasis on showcasing the product experience. You will see an emphasis put on non-traditional ways to market. I want us to continue, and lead, in real-time marketing, mobile marketing … And lastly, everything around BlackBerry. No dilution of the brand. We have a fantastic brand; let’s make the most out of it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.