Interim BlackBerry CEO John Chen has wasted no time in overhauling the company as both chief marketing officer Frank Boulben and chief operating officer Kristian Tear have now left for other endeavors. While news of executive departures is rarely a good sign for any company, in this case it’s a much-needed showing of accountability, something the one-time Canadian smartphone dynamo has lacked in recent years. Boulben’s departure in particular signals that BlackBerry executives will no longer get away with lighting large piles of money on fire without facing any consequences.
To get a sense of Boulden’s reign of error as BlackBerry’s marketing chief, you have to step back and recall the two major marketing decisions that BlackBerry made over the last year: The hiring of Alicia Keys as a “creative director” and a Super Bowl ad that literally showed you the things that BlackBerry’s new platform was incapable of doing. Both choices were costly and both did little to stop BlackBerry’s slide in the smartphone market.
The Alicia Keys decision had “debacle” written all over it from the start, especially after the pop star showed a decided lack of commitment to the company by sending out a Tweet through her iPhone saying how much she loved BlackBerry 10. As Apple, Samsung and even Microsoft lately have shown, you don’t need an expensive celebrity endorsement to create a killer marketing campaign and tech companies that do choose to go with the celebrity spokesperson route — think HTC and Robert Downey, Jr., for example — aren’t guaranteed a good return on their investment.
While the Alicia Keys ploy falls into the category of “misguided,” the Super Bowl ad disaster falls into the category of “unforgivable.” In case you don’t recall, this is what BlackBerry spent millions of dollars to show tens of millions of viewers during the Super Bowl: