Opinion by Patrick Avenell
After returning from EuroCucina in Milan last week, I found upon my desk the creepiest letter I have ever received. It came in a black envelope with a handwritten address and no indication of who sent it.
Written on black paper in white marker was the simple text:
There was absolutely no indication of who sent it to me and, having been out of the country for 10 days, I was unaware that billboards were displaying the same message, a pool had been branded with this two-word literary accelerant or that a protest had been staged outside the Apple Retail Store in Sydney. It was a strange, befuddling and ultimately unsettling piece of correspondence.
My discomfort did not last long. I am an avid reader of the excellent media and marketing trade website mUmbrella (its styling). A story with no byline was posted on that site under the headline: “Samsung Galaxy launch believed to be behind ‘Wake up’ teaser campaign”.
This story filled me on what had taken place so far: this strange black letter was simply part of a marketing campaign and not some surreptitious attempt to correct my admittedly bizarre sleeping patterns. But I was never convinced of Samsung’s involvement.
Aside from the obvious, that the countdown was not in-synch with the Galaxy S III’s launch, there were a number of clues that immediately made me discount Samsung’s involvement, first among them was the use of black when Samsung universally uses a deep blue.
If not Samsung, then who? The RIM speculation was already in full swing by the time Samsung denied any involvement, and I received confirmation of RIM’s involvement from industry sources 48 hours before the BlackBerry handset manufacturer claimed responsibility yesterday morning.
Even before releasing this statement, journalists across the media, technology and business beats had begun beating RIM over the head for this campaign.
The AFR’s David Ramli quoted John Mescall from ad agency McCann saying, “Campaigns like this are a very cheap trick, [and] can backfire if the main event doesn’t live up to the hype and I guess Kony2012 is a great example of that.”
The masthead that originally discovered RIM’s involvement, MacTalk, editorialised under the byline “fulltimecasual” (its styling) that, “It's Poor Old RIM who put together this embarrassing campaign. It's heartbreaking that even when RIM try something cool, they end up screwing it up so badly that no-one even imagines it could be them.”
James Manning at the SMH quoted Tipherath Gloria, a “social media strategist” from VML Australia, saying “The punch line, which is the fact that BlackBerry is behind it, is what makes it fail because BlackBerry is not associated with any kind of success”.
Gloria is wrong with that last piece of social media strategy analysis: this has been a tremendously successful campaign – comfortably the best so far of 2012.
Research In Motion is currently having its annual BlackBerry gabfest in Orlando, Florida. A large number of tech journos didn’t even know this was happening (including this reporter), and apparently there is going to be a big reveal sometime on Sunday afternoon (Australian time). This marketing campaign has not only got the attention of the tech and marketing press, it’s transcended into the consumer and business titles, the man on the street and the unfortunate souls who for some reason watch breakfast TV.
The original video of the Apple Retail Store protest, uploaded by Nate “Blunty” Burr after a tip-off by RIM, went global (almost 460,000 views at the time of writing), with coverage in Los Angeles, London and even New Delhi. This is much, much more exposure than RIM could have ever received from spending the same amount of money on a couple of boring old TVCs.
The inescapable truth of this episode is that too many journalists were duped into believing it was Samsung, and when they were wrong, they took their revenge on RIM.
There is an old saying in the newspaper game, one memorably repeated by Toby Ziegler on The West Wing: “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel”. Online journos have an unlimited amount of space to negatively editorialise once they are angry, and the chagrin many have felt at being wrong, which is clearly different to being deceived, has been palpable.
RIM’s mistake was not a bad marketing campaign — it was delivering it to an audience unwilling to accept a good one.
A scan of the letter RIM sent Current.com.au.
The author of this article has received several BlackBerry handsets from RIM under long term loan agreements. The author currently uses a fully-paid for Apple iPhone 4S.