Confusion, indecision, muddled messaging helped doom beleaguered RIM’s PlayBook

“As Research In Motion Ltd. executives prepared early this year for the launch of their first tablet, the PlayBook, one big question loomed: Who was the device for?,” Phred Dvorak, Suzanne Vranica and Spencer E. Ante report for The Wall Street Journal. “Some executives… saw the gadget as an extension of the BlackBerry, long favored by corporations and business people. Others were pushing for more focus on ordinary consumers, people eager for games, music and movies, according to executives close to the company.”

“‘There’s an internal war going on around the marketing message. Even the guys at the top don’t agree,’ one executive close to the company said at the time,” Dvorak, Vranica and Ante report. “The split showed through in a campaign RIM planned with its ad agency. It envisioned using humor and celebrities like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady—but also the tagline ‘Go Pro’—said two people familiar with the situation. By the time the PlayBook went on sale in April, both the campaign and the agency had been canned, and RIM’s marketing chief and several of his deputies had left… [PlayBook] is threatening to be one of RIM’s biggest flops at a time when the company is reeling from a series of profit warnings, product delays, declining BlackBerry shipments and a tumbling stock.”

“The marketing muddle shows one of the biggest problems facing RIM: In a market increasingly driven by the wishes of the retail consumer, its executives have struggled to wean the company from its heavy corporate focus… Late last year, Leo Burnett and RIM parted ways. RIM then hired 72 and Sunny, a small California ad agency,” Dvorak, Vranica and Ante report. “Its first job: a campaign for the soon-to-be-launched PlayBook… The new ad agency held weekly meetings with RIM officials. It “presented hundreds of ideas and spent months having work rejected,” says one person familiar with the matter. In early February, Mr. Pardy resigned as RIM’s chief marketing officer. RIM fired the 72 and Sunny ad agency—just a month before the PlayBook rollout, according to two people familiar with the situation.”

Dvorak, Vranica and Ante report, “On April 14, RIM held a launch event in New York. Some early reviews of the tablet had been scathing, especially about the inability to read email on the device without tethering it to a BlackBerry. Journalists, analysts and customers gathered around a stage expecting a news conference by [half-CEOs] Messrs. Balsillie and Lazaridis. At the last minute, RIM said the two wouldn’t take the stage.”

Tons more in the full, huge article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Two more senior staff exit beleaguered BlackBerry maker RIM – September 29, 2011
Beleaguered RIM claims rumors of BlackBerry PlayBook discontinuation are ‘pure fiction’ – September 29, 2011
Retailers slash price tag on RIM’s tiny-screen Playbook flop – September 29, 2011
Beleaguered RIM drastically cuts production of PlayBook flop – September 21, 2011
Beleaguered RIM hemorrhaging market share faster than some analysts expected – September 16, 2011
Insiders describe RIM as paranoid, reactionary, and out-of-touch – July 15, 2011


  1. Having either of those clowns Balsillie and Lazaridis take the stage is always a liability, especially Balsillie. I know English words come out of his mouth, but it’s like they’re spewed out randomly so nothing he says makes any sense.

  2. I think the answer lies at a simpler level. They were targeting PlayBooks at enterprises but left out the one thing that enterprises valued above all others: inherent email. In fact RIM made their name on backend security with email. That’s less relevant now with the ability to send encrypted messages over MS Exchange on the hardware level and implement 3DES VPN tunnelling.

    At the same time RIM was trying to battle Apple on the consumer front. Apple is the acknowledged leader in consumer technology and have many points in which they interface directly with the consumer, the Apple store and Apple careline, to name two. So RIM was at a disadvantage when they went head to head with the incumbent where consumers by and large only recognize the iPad brand.

    There were too many hills to surmount. Being a second mover in an entrenched market is always difficult. But when you introduce a half baked tablet you’re effectively fighting with one hand tied behind your back. And Apple doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to protecting its turf.

    1. Going with a new OS wasn’t the problem. There’s nothing wrong with QNX. The problem was that the decision to do so was at least 3 years to late. Most competitors didn’t take the iPhone seriously when it was first introduced. They expected Apple to have some small margin of the overall market. They were wrong.

  3. The PlayBook tablet’s requirement to also own a BlackBerry screamed a disaster. Why not also offer standard WiFi? Can the BlackBerry not use WiFi? Do they just not know how to connect to WiFi?

    Or, is it their home grown e-mail system. Could they not rewrite the software required to READ and WRITE to their server systems.

    Again, it made no sense to me why they could not get that crap PlayBook tablet to use WiFi and their e-mail servers.

  4. Two revealing points in RIM’s recent history:

    Engineers and executives debated what to do about the BlackBerry’s operating system, which was looking old and slow next to Apple’s, says a former RIM executive. The company started hiring outsiders to try to catch up.
    It brought in a “user-experience” executive from
    Microsoft Corp.. ”

    They say some RIM executives found it difficult to give up on ads that highlight technical specifications. During a brainstorming session, some RIM marketing executives insisted on highlighting the phone’s keyboard

    “That’s not fair. Turn off the camera. This interview is finished.”

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