BlackBerry looks for a fountain of youth and enlists College Humor

RIM BLACKBERRY SUPERHEROESRIM has hired Streeter Seidell and Amir Blumenfeld of College Humor to liven up the image of its troubled BlackBerry line of smartphones and tablets. As part of its “New 2012 Challenge Council Project,” (which sounds like it was named by a foreign language translated random-word generator) the two comedians, best known for their popular web videos, will “shut down BlackBerry trash talk once and for all,” according to the BBM Generation website. As a company that has wrestled with the public perception of its BlackBerry as a device behind the times, RIM’s campaign urges users to “sign up to be the first to know when these guys start putting BlackBerry naysayers on blast.”

Being cool is hard. Microsoft used to take a lot of heat for striving to maintain the status quo with its iterations of Windows and Office, but the company was comfortable in the proverbial navy blue, three-button suit: Nothing flashy, but it got the job done. When Apple unexpectedly rose from a zombie-like state to claim the monopoly on coolness in tech, Microsoft was forced to step up its game. Although things are looking hopeful now — Windows Phone is gaining users everyday, and Windows 8’s Metro interface has the Internet buzzing with the unmitigated ecstasy typically reserved for those certain products that only come in glossy white or black — it was a long road to hipness for Redmond. Remember those Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates buddy commercials that were both too long and extremely unfunny? Hey, you’ve got to crack a few eggs to make an omelette, or an exciting OS in this case.

Which is why it’s so hard to watch BlackBerry, tech-innovator of a bygone era, stutter in its attempts to appeal to a younger generation of smartphone and tablet users. As corporate IT policies evolved over the last few years and became increasingly tolerant of employees bringing their own devices to work, the consumerization of business technology took a significant toll on RIM’s bottom line. IT administrators have always loved BlackBerry for its secure OS and easy manageability in large-scale environments, but according to recent studies, only 7 percent of IT admins plan on increasing their use of RIM products in the future. And so the BlackBerry brand is left with a seeming paradox on its hands: Be cool to survive in the business world that made the company a success by being reliably boring. Explaining the tidal shift in consumer tastes, a source close to RIM told BGR last year “They’re selling a screen with a giant calculator attached to it. It’s not a cool device anymore.”

Youth appeal

To this end, BlackBerry has become increasingly adventurous with its advertising lately. The inescapable “Be Bold” campaign drafted popular bloggers to opine on their boldest moments. In a much-covered misstep, RIM anthropomorphized a social networking survey it conducted over Twitter into a cartoon super-hero team that featured “Gogo Girl: The Achiever” and “Justin Steele: The Advocate.” The ad was widely derided by users, prompting one participant to comment that she would “now carry my BB in a brown paper sack in order to avoid public mockery,” according to The New York Times. RIM even went so far as to issue a mea culpa over the ad, saying the super heroes were “not a new ad campaign,” and would only be making a “one-time appearance,” according to The Times article.

Although former RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis is widely regarded as a keen visionary who recognized a void in business communication and filled it with the BlackBerry, he was also seen by RIM insiders as a boss stuck in his ways. As BGR quoted a source inside RIM’s Waterloo headquarters at the dawn of the iPhone launch, “Mike is convinced people won’t buy an iPhone because it doesn’t have a battery as good as a BlackBerry.” Although Lazaridis is no longer running the company, his replacement, Thorsten Heins, may not be moving far enough from Lazaridis’s outmoded view of the smartphone industry. Although it’s still unclear what BlackBerry will be doing with its College Humor spokespeople, the move looks to be much of the same.

Image Credit: Inside BlackBerry