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BlackBerry makes a virtue out of necessity

Falling higher-end phone sales prompt RIM to cut prices and come up with a new campaign to attract the real 'boys'

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(RIM), makers of BlackBerry phones, has taken one more step in its bid to relate to teenagers and young professionals, even if that means having fun at the expense of the original ‘BlackBerry boys’ (grown men in black suits) in its brand new campaign.

The ad shows a band of disheartened middle-aged men singing a ballad about the days when were used strictly for work and how newer and younger users are using the phones for chatting, messaging and sharing pictures.

To show that it wants to walk the talk, RIM has slashed the prices of three of its entry level BlackBerry models, in the Curve series. The highest price cut of around Rs 8,000 was for its Torch phone, which is both touch-screen and Querty. The prices of its high-end Bold series remained unchanged.

“We see a significant increase in adoption of BlackBerry in the youth segment and this growth has been fuelled with the increasing popularity of BlackBerry messenger, the affordable Curve series smartphone and tariff plans across post-paid and pre-paid,” says Krishnadeep Baruah, RIM’s director marketing- India.

Advertising experts are, however, not too happy with the new campaign. Harish Bijoor, an independent marketing consultant, says that it hurts the basic core users of the phone, which are enterprise customers. “BlackBerry is trying to embrace younger consumers but is alienating the guy in the suit,” Bijoor says.

BlackBerry, however, may be making a virtue out of necessity as the new campaign coincides with a growing trend of business users, who purchase the highest-end of BlackBerry devices, shifting to i-Phones due to more features, touch screen appeal and the smart positioning of Apple in the top-end category. This international trend, which is catching up in India, is prompting RIM to broadbase its users.

That explains why BlackBerry is trying to capture the low-end smartphone market. Some say the price cuts of phones came a tad late — more than a year after it started shedding its enterprise-only image. The company lost its number two place in smartphone sales last year even though its market share went up by two per cent, according to a report by CyberMedia Research. Samsung, with its range of Android handsets across various price ranges, toppled RIM to the second spot.

“The current campaign from Blackberry is to support them gain traction in the consumer segment. The recent cut in prices is a move to gain some market share. However, their forte is enterprise and they should not lose ground there.” says Abhishek Chauhan, Senior Consultant at Frost & Sullivan. Chauhan, however, adds that BlackBerry is still an aspirational brand for the youth in India and affordability as well as applications like BBM can help them boost share in the consumer segment.

That may well be true, but RIM is indeed facing intense competition. Samsung, and are not the only ones; others too are bringing new handsets in newer platforms like the new revamped Windows operating system. RIM, however, takes heart from the fact that it has been increasing its user base year-on-year. “While the market has expanded with various smartphone options from other players, we have not seen this weakening our position and popularity in India,” says Baruah.

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