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BW Businessworld

Who Needs To Wake Up?

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If Research in Motion's recent "Wake Up" campaign is any indication of the company's mindset –and I rather suspect it is — we can go ahead and despair for the BlackBerry maker. RIM has had enough bad luck to last a lifetime without having to shoot itself in the foot with this embarrassing campaign, but it doesn't look like it has had its fill yet. 

What happened was that on April 26th, a big black bus appeared in front of a Sydney Apple store. Out spilled a bunch of people, dressed in black, holding up black signs that said WAKE UP Be Bold. They went straight to the Apple store and yelled in protest. At what, we don't know. Perhaps Apple's dominance. Nonplussed Apple staff and the general public couldn't make head or tail of this flash mob and what they wanted or what they were protesting about as BlackBerry was not mentioned anywhere.

Samsung, about to launch its Galaxy S III then, was suspected to be the culprit behind the flash mob, but denied responsibility for this bizarre activity. Research In Motion however, owned up and said it was behind the campaign. Who are these people that actually agreed to participate in the Wake Up mob? I wouldn't have done it for a million dollars – or maybe I would, but I'd go in disguise.

Not satisfied with an incredulous and scathing reaction from practically the whole world, RIM has now gone ahead and formalised the campaign with a website, which houses the short black bleak blah-blah ad.

As for the ad itself: an Australian voice exhorts you to wake up because it's time to mean business, not the standard briefcase and suit business, but taking action and doing different instead of just thinking different. Further, the voice tells people it's a simple choice: mean business or just be satisfied with floating along like a cork in the stream. And one final, arrogant shot at those who aren't interested in BlackBerry. You can "float on by" because being in business is not for everyone. So you're supposed to head for the company that knows business because it's been in business from the very beginning. Never mind that its stock is scraping the bottom of the barrel, that just lost its two CEOs precisely because it couldn't handle business – not in the face of competition – and that confidence in the company is draining out like water from an unplugged bathtub.

Mobile companies keep taking pot shots at each other in their ads, sometimes to the amusement to of customers, sometimes not at all. Samsung recently had an ad making fun of "iSheep", the derogatory term used for Apple fans who will buy anything the company makes, and stand in long queues losing their sleep to do so.  It would be nice if companies got away from this fairly tired line of advertising. Enough already. Come up with your own strengths instead of insulting mobile users, even if there's sometimes a laugh or two in it.

Funny or not, an Apple-Samsung battle is one thing, and RIM trying to take on Apple is another. Not only is it abjectly ridiculous, it reinforces the increasingly held belief that the BlackBerry Boys are living in a world of their own –a world in which they are as big and as healthy as Apple. In this sense, Nokia, another company that lost its top dog position, differs in its attitude. I've found that they admit they're no longer in a great place, and that a lot of hard work needs to be done to regain their former glory, and that slow and steady will make this happen. This is starkly different from RIM, where there seems to be a disconnect with what the world outside thinks.

The world outside, as it happens, has just seen RIM demo its largely unfinished BlackBerry 10 operating system, admittedly with a few nice features but ones that would have made sense over a year ago. They gave a device to developers to encourage them to make the apps that everyone knows BlackBerry World is starved for. But no confident strategy. No definite date. No commitments. Nothing for either enterprises or consumers to really wait for. It's this backdrop against which the Wake Up campaign looks even more nonsensical than ever.

RIM is now hiring a new chief marketing officer, Frank Boulben. Well, it certainly needs one. But before that, it needs something to market. It needs to open its own eyes and look around at how many people are saying it's RIM that needs to wake up.

Mala Bhargava is a personal technology writer and media professional
Contact her at mala at pobox dot com and @malabhargava on Twitter