The Challenge of Changing Minds: Can Blackberry Be Cool Again?


In the days pre-iPhone and pre-Android, it was cool to have a Blackberry.

Now, all that has changed.

I had a great back-and-forth with Dean Heuman on Twitter (@dheuman). Dean is a marketing and communications pro with and he is a die-hard Blackberry fan. But even Dean admits that “even if Blackberry comes out with something awesome, they are tainted with being uncool. It seems once you are tainted, you can’t be cool again.”

Can cool be recaptured?

There are some examples that suggest it is possible.

Only a decade ago, Old Spice was a washed-up brand that only your Dad would wear. Today it is the top selling men’s bath brand.

For a long time Johnny Cash was uncool, even in country music. He very quickly recovered that cool, and died a rock ‘n roll and country music icon.

Nintendo definitely looked pretty uncool compared to Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s Playstation. And then they created the Wii and changed all that instantly.

The Lacoste crocodile is suddenly cool to wear again, despite being a powerful symbol of 80s preppiness.

What can Blackberry take away from the lessons learned by these comeback brands?

1. Find new friends. Johnny Cash found uber-hip producer Rick Rubin. Old Spice found creative energy in Wieden+Kennedy and spokesperson Isaiah Mustafa. When you associate with cool, you too can become cool.

2. Take serious risks. Nintendo went after an entirely new audience for video games with Wii. Johnny Cash recorded sparse acoustic versions of alternative rock songs. If you want to move the needle, you need to do remarkable things that are inherently risky.

3. Touch pop culture. Isaiah Mustafa, as the Old Spice guy, has become a pop culture celebrity. The Wii became a pop culture phenomenon. When the world is talking about you, good things usually happen. Unless you’re BP, Anthony Weiner, or Tiger Woods.

4. Be patient. Lacoste waited nearly 20 years through the age of grunge, until the prep look came back in style. Johnny Cash waded through two decades of musical fads before his raw sound found an audience again.

5. Create scarcity. A shortage of something creates value. The lack of available Wii consoles when they were first released created a massive push for them. The death of Johnny Cash, at the peak of his comeback, left us wanting more of the Man in Black. Demand + Scarcity = Value.

I don’t know for sure if any – or all – of those lessons will apply to the fortunes of Blackberry, but I hope the brand recovers and emerges strong. It is good for competition and for the people of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, whose economic base has grown along with Blackberry’s parent company Research in Motion.

There is an entire chapter in the book Brand Like a Rock Star that examines how brands can recover their “cool”. You can pre-order the book right now.

If you don’t already follow Brand Like a Rock Star on Twitter, please do! You can also take part in the conversation on our Facebook page.

Apple, Blackberry playbook, Blackberry Storm, Johnny Cash, Nintendo, Old Spice, Uncategorized 169 Comments

Life After Death

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When I heard that Sony Music was paying $250 million to the estate of Michael Jackson for the rights to his past music and 10 projects to be released over the next 7 years, my first thought was that they are completely nuts.  I mean, they just signed a dead artist who hasn’t had a legitimate hit song since 1995 to the biggest record deal in history!  He was nearly bankrupt prior to his death and his last album struggled to reach the break even point.  What were they thinking?!?

But when you stop and think about,  there are two reason that Sony might actually be quite shrewd paying this much for Jackson’s music past and future.

1. It is no longer about CD’s and downloads.  It is about movie soundtracks, TV shows, commercials, computer games, and platforms we haven’t even considered yet.  In the old world of CD sales this deal would be nuts, but maybe not so much anymore.

2. Michael Jackson is now a rarity.  Like Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Bob Marley, we sadly won’t be blessed with any new music from him.  That makes his brand infinitely more valuable.  In death, Elvis made $55 million last year.  John Lennon’s estate claimed over $15 million in 2009.  Bob Marley’s estate still earns close to $10 million annually… that’s $892,500,000 in Jamaican dollars.

Michael was already far more wealthy in death than he was in life.  His estate earned $90 million in the seven months following his death.  And the years to come with obviously be much more profitable.


What can your business learn from this morbid story?

1. The law of supply and demand is impossible to refute.  If demand is high and supply is low, the value goes sky high.  Examples?  Nintendo’s Wii machine was impossible to find two years ago at Christmas.  The supply was low, but everybody wanted one.  That’s why they fetched over $1000 on e-bay.  Michael Jackson is in demand (because he’s dead) and he’s in low supply (also thanks to death), so once again his value is very high.   How does your brand control supply and demand?  Remember that “supply” could easily be “exposure”.  Are you controlling your brand from overexposure?

2. If you have something cool (like, say, unreleased Michael Jackson material) it pays off to tell people that it is coming.  Create some advance interest.  By telling us that there are 10 Michael Jackson projects coming in the next 7 years, Sony has teased us with what could come.  Rumor is that there are three albums worth of new and unreleased MJ material in the vaults.  Another rumor is that Michael was planning to re-release a new version of  “Off The Wall”.   Apple has done this brilliantly… things like the iPad were the topic of much discussion and anticipation long before they came out.  What does your brand do to generate interest in what you are about to do?

Now Sony couldbe crazy.  But if Elvis Presley is any example, Michael Jackson’s music will endure for years to come in any number of forms and platforms, and Sony will more than recoup their $250 million.

Apple, Bob Marley, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Nintendo, The Beatles 1,734 Comments