OPINION: Can rebranding save BlackBerry, or is it a distraction?

From first impressions, the new BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 appear pretty neat devices with appealing and unique features, but during the launch it seemed Chief Executive Thorsten Heins wanted us to focus on anything other than the product.

The main attraction was sandwiched between the surprise announcement of Research In Motion’s rebranding to BlackBerry early in the event and the shock revelation that American singer Alicia Keys will be the company’s new Global Creative Director.

If the headline writers weren’t scrambling after the rebranding, they certainly were once Keys had been paraded about.

For sure a few extra column inches were filled by the two added scoops, and BlackBerry certainly led the global technology news agenda through Wednesday and Thursday, but such a high profile build up to the launch – most of which had negative connotations considering Research In Motion’s poor 2012 performance – was always going to ensure this was the case.

Instead of focusing on the very product which the manufacturer hopes will be the saviour of BlackBerry, social media and analysis became crowded with questions over Keys’ true role and speculation as to whether the rebranding will make a difference or not.

Heins’ reasoning seemed sound enough: “Our customers use the BlackBerry, our employees work for BlackBerry, and our shareholders are owners of BlackBerry. From today on, we are BlackBerry everywhere in the world.”

But if that’s the case, why risk overshadowing your “most important” launch to date with the announcement you are changing name to something everyone already knows you as anyway.

In truth the only people the name Research In Motion mattered to was the employees of the company and its rival manufacturers.

Pundits in the United States have praised the “bold move”, including Roberto Baldwin, writing for Wired.com, who believes it was vital for the company start “a new book” in America after its market share dropped from 44.5 percent in 2006 to 8.4 percent in September last year.

But in Africa, BlackBerry remains one of the leading devices, being named Coolest Brand Overall in a youth poll for the Sunday Times Generation Next 2012 Brand Survey Awards in 2012 for the second year in a row.

Africa is the world’s fastest growing telecoms market and maybe instead of focusing on a token rebrand, BlackBerry could have worked closer and quicker with its network operators on the continent to provide concrete launch dates.

In South Africa, so far only 8ta have gone so far as to give the date (March 1) the new devices will be available. Vodacom, MTN and Cell C have all given little indication of when they plan to start selling.

BlackBerry has yet to comment on how much they are spending on the rebranding exercise, but the Canadian company has confirmed they have taken out an advert in Sunday’s US Super Bowl. With costs starting at US$4 million per 30-second spot it is safe to assume it is no small amount.

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