Does BlackBerry’s Super Bowl Ad Matter?


BlackBerry will be one of the companies lining up for the privilege of paying several million dollars for a brief advertising slot at the Super Bowl.

Chances are that ad, despite its fleeting nature, might rival the company’s digital ad spend for an entire year in a country like, say, Canada.

Are there really any drawbacks to this? Unlike most TV advertising, these ads become something of a cultural touchpoint, get huge exposure, get additional views online during and after the event, and garner additional references by the tens of thousands as “earned media.” The $4 million or so won’t exactly put a huge dent in the company’s cash reserves (still in the billions).

In light of that, it could be argued that it’s good bang for the buck on paper, and in this case, particularly timely. It’s almost tempting to come around to the “pro-Super-Bowl-commercial” line of thinking.

Ultimately, though, it might pose a risk in two ways.

  1. If there isn’t anything truly new or remarkable in the commercial, then you’ve reached out to the 99% of the phone buying public who simply aren’t rabid BlackBerry fans, giving them ever more reason to bray about the new devices’ perceived shortcomings.
  2. It can serve as a distraction from the much more important challenge: the much more broad-ranging, “on the ground” ebb and flow of outreach across many channels, in every conceivable forum for public opinion formation & info gathering.

The second is the most important. Despite the hype, people don’t really get their information from Super Bowl commercials. The “real action” is all over the place. Especially online.

People stopped getting their information from TV spots a very long time ago. And starting 15 years ago, folks in rarefied fields began using news aggregator tools (or Bloomberg terminals) to find stuff out. Now everyone looks everything up on a constant basis, joins the fray, exercises intent by opting into a notification list or buying immediately, etc.

Is there anyone in the market for a new smartphone who is not now aware that Blackberry’s new devices and new OS are out? Is there any particular value to building the “brand” with a steady onslaught of TV and billboard ads, for example… as opposed to engaging in all other forms of more direct marketing and customer care?

Imagine if you could do for TV what you could do for some online channels: “negative out” certain demographics or intents, to reach a subset of more likely candidates. Or go after certain IP addresses that betray a likely business user. Let’s face it — when it comes to large-audience, network broadcasts,  TV’s concept of targeting is laughable. There are still folks who think you’re “targeting a business audience” by advertising insurance, enterprise software, and Cadillacs on the golf broadcasts (clearly the province only of top execs).

Well, you can’t do the “negative out thing” or the “B2B targeting thing” on the Super Bowl. So you’re paying $4 million to show a 30-second propaganda film to everyone instead of much less to reach out with a richer piece of information for some key decision-makers in the enterprise. But you knew that.

What of the mass commercial market? Not much better.

A commercial has very little connection to what we see today on BlackBerry’s blog, for example, where loyalists rush to the defense of the new Q10 devices (the ones with the physical keyboards coming out in a few weeks). What a blessing for BlackBerry that they still have a not-inconsequential tribe of people eager to jump on a comment thread with comments like (real comment): “The BlackBerry physical keyboard and call buttons are what silverware is to eating food. Yes, I can eat with my hands, but it’s much more civilized to eat with silverware.” And of course there are a lot of laments about the shape and size of just about everything. In short, a lot of real-world back and forth.

Ha! I’m guessing that’s not how the Super Bowl ad will be. It will — shocker — try to wow us with how good the device is. And in a world of people who know very well that information doesn’t come from commercials… that makes it pretty much irrelevant.

Let’s hope the company thrives down in the weeds, where the real action happens. Like here:

blackberry gorilla

Getting the story out one user, one search result, one tweet, one carrier, one feature rebuild, one developer, etc. etc. etc. … at a time. By contrast, a Super Bowl ad — while it seems BIG — is easy to do. A little bit expensive, but really nothing to quibble about. And such an easy check to write.

As such, I can’t see it making any difference. Most viewers will still be talking about the Oreo ad the next day — or whichever one was really the best.

The pointless 30-second spot neatly does solve the problem with so many forms of non-traditional advertising… there are a lot of cheques to write. For many harder-to-execute feats. Sometimes the available “advertising” inventory in a certain online channel is much smaller than your wallet is (or maybe you just aren’t looking hard enough at how to spend it). When your budget is big and timelines compressed, the margin of safety says, just in case, write that big check and get it over with.

No harm done (unless the ad is laughable and sinks your brand in one day). But the other stuff — the harder stuff with all those little to-do’s and little checks to write — is what really matters.

What are your thoughts?

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