Putting an ad in the Super Bowl is a gamble. It costs millions, but reaches millions. It can reinvigorate (Audi’s 2011 “Escape Old Luxury” commercial), it can bomb (Groupon’s 2011 “Free Tibet” ad, which used a serious geopolitical issue to hock cheap soup), or, worst of all, it can be completely unmemorable (like that one about the car…with the thing? Remember? Of course you don’t). Which is why I was intrigued to see what Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) would cook up for their much-hyped $4 million Super Bowl ad.
Ad or no ad, BlackBerry needs its own 108-yard touchdown run with the BlackBerry 10. It’s woefully behind in the consumer smartphone market, and unlike Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), it doesn’t have a side line of highly successful office software to fall back on. With this move, BlackBerry was announcing that they were “ready for prime time.” But was their ad?
In short, after taking some time to reflect, no it wasn’t, for three reasons:
1. Where Was the Rationale?
While the ad itself (featuring a guy whose smartphone can perform amazing feats, like setting him on fire or making him disappear in a puff of smoke) was well-made and reasonably entertaining, the ad’s tag (“It’s quicker to show you what it can’t do!”) was a poor choice for showcasing an unfamiliar product.
Evidence shows that people don’t switch brands (whether laundry soap or smartphones) unless they have a very compelling reason to do so, usually either price or quality. This ad highlighted neither. While showing what the phone can’t do may well be “quicker,” it’s not “smarter,” because as a viewer, I still have no idea why I should pick the BlackBerry 10 over Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s iPhone or one running Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s Android. None of those phones can make me disappear in a puff of smoke either, and odds are I already own one. Missed opportunity.
Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) should have taken a leaf from Apple’s playbook. Cupertino’s recent “Orchestra” commercial isn’t one of their most memorable, but it highlights a specific feature of the iPhone 5: a noise-canceling “background microphone” that improves voice quality. This has long been a complaint about smartphones in general (“I can access my stock portfolio, but I can’t hear the people I’m talking to!”), and provides a compelling case to buy the phone.
What’s especially galling here is that the BlackBerry 10 has a great feature that really could make people sit up and take notice: the “time warp” camera, in which you can “roll back” the expression on someone’s face in a photo, in case they blink or twitch. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here: it truly does look really cool. Apple’s taken a few hits for not upgrading its camera enough in the iPhone 5, so this could be a great selling point for shutter bugs. What did we get instead? Elephant feet.
2. Where Was the Phone?
Aside from a one-second closeup at the end of the commercial, we didn’t see much of the actual device. It was covered by the guy’s hand for most of the ad. It’s really hard to sell me on a product when you’re not even showing me what it looks like or how big it is (4.2″ screen, incidentally, which may be why they didn’t tout that. In an era where bigger is starting to be better again, this only beats the iPhone 5 by a measly .2 inches and loses handily to many Android phones). Plus, the thing looks an awful lot like an iPhone. Wouldn’t I just be better off getting an iPhone?