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Published on August 20th, 2009

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Blog: Blackberry loves U2. Did Wembley love Blackberry?

So last weekend saw the U2 circus hit Wembley. The band has never had any difficulty attracting corporate sponsorship for their tours or album launches. An association with the worlds biggest evergreen band and the scale and global appeal that delivers has been a key factor in a number of sponsorship deals in recent years.

Perhaps most prominent in recent years was the Apple tie in that delivered a global TV advertising platform for the band for the ‘Vertigo’ track, promoting itunes and ipod whilst announcing their return at a time when record companies could only dream of that kind of marketing spend for their superstar artists.

It was a surprise, then, to discover a few months ago that Apple’s arch rivals in the smart phone category, RIM, were sponsoring U2’s huge global trek in support of the Blackberry. What bold new initiatives was the partnership going to deliver? What new technology would be showcased? It was certainly going to be big – but how was it going to be clever?

Sure they would release a limited edition handset – that’s to be expected. But how would RIM provide the cutting edge and benefit to U2 that would deliver a true partnership with benefits not only to both parties – but the fans who are turning out in their millions to see this concert spectacular?

“This tour announcement marks the first stage of a relationship and shared vision between RIM and U2 that we expect will lead to new and innovative ways to enhance the mobile music experience on the BlackBerry platform for U2 fans. We look forward to sharing more details as the relationship unfolds.” was the quote from U2’s manager Paul McGuinness at the time of the announcement. That sounds like a holding statement if I ever heard one. In other words – ‘Thanks very much for the money. We’ll do you an ad and let you do some branding stuff at the shows and maybe we’ll do more when you get your s**t together!”

So I’ve been on the Blackberry website and cant find any specifics? They are a long way into the tour – surely if there was a ‘innovative way to enhance the mobile music experience’ it would have been announced by now? There is a short clip on the website that hints at some sort of online co branded platform or app – but what is it? And where is it?

The partnership is an interesting one. One which heralds RIM’s full blooded entry into the cut and thrust of the entertainment industry. Last year I witnessed some of their ‘toe in the water’ activity at Wireless festival in Hyde Park, London – ‘show your Blackberry for a free beer and come into our tent’ but that was about it. At U2 I was expecting to be wowed by a brand sponsoring one of the biggest global tours in the past few years. I was expecting something really innovative – a declaration of intent to take on Apple when it comes to apps, handsets and music. Lets set aside the fact that the Blackberry U2 tour ad looks exactly – and I mean exactly – like Apple’s Coldplay clip for “Viva la Vida’… how were they going to make a splash and be different?

Well they didn’t. There were three branded tents on Wembley Way, staffed with promo teams. Ok – all fairly straightforward experiential stuff – range of handsets on show and TV monitors playing the ad on a loop. In terms of interaction I walked up and examined the Blackberry Storm “Have you got a Blackberry sir?” No – I’ve got an iphone. This was met with a withering look. “What if I did have a Blackberry?” I ventured. “Then you’d get a free pack of screen wipes”. Right. So If I’ve already got a Blackberry then that’s fine – I’m in the club. But if I have anything else it’s goodbye, sir…What a wasted opportunity. The Blackberry experiential teams should be looking to covert consumers in addition to rewarding their existing customers. The brand should be tapping in to the community and seeing everyone as a potential customer – not turning away the very audience they are looking to convert.

So other than screen advertising at the stadium – which must have been obscured by the huge staging structure to a sizable chunk of the audience – and ‘Blackberry loves U2’ banners – which does seem a rather weak campaign platform on which to build a sponsorship – that was it. And the experiential units had disappeared on the way out so they missed those customers who didn’t feel like engaging with them on the way in. Sure they got branding on the tickets, gig marketing and so on – but it was all rather disappointing. Apple certainly don’t have anything to worry about from RIM when it comes to converting this audience.

Sadly Blackberry projected what is already clear – they are a business brand desperately trying to compete in he entertainment space. Until they bring some innovation and benefit to the audience they are looking to sway – they are always likely to be way behind the curve.



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