Thursday, April 19, 2012

I am no longer a BlackBerry Boy


Vodafone's advertising for its services on the smart phone sends signals loud and clear that it doesn't care for customers of his age, says our columnist.

The criticism normally levelled against advertising is that it makes us buy things we don't actually need. My family has consistently proven this to be true as we never seem to have place, however large the house is. Several years ago, a cake of Nirma premium soap landed up as part of my mother's shopping list. I asked her why she had bought it and she looked at me strangely and said, “I liked the ad.” That soap remained unopened in her house forever. She often complained to me how backward Bangalore was as some brand of dal which was advertised on Sun TV was not available here. So it is hardly surprising that advertising continues to run in my blood and influence my brand choices. After all, what little success I have got in life is because of advertising!



And yet, the same advertising and the love for it now makes me wonder about the mobile phone I have been using for some time now. Let me confess that when it comes to gadgets, I am a bit of a technophobe, that is a “pencil and paper” type who normally looks to my family to help me on the brand and model that I should buy. That certainly applies to laptops and mobiles. So some time ago, my tech-savvy family decided that I should own a BlackBerry. And who was I to question superior technological ability? So I promptly went ahead and bought the phone and was reasonably happy with it. I even learnt to use the BlackBerry messenger thanks to my enterprising young friends who pushed me, taught me and even stored their names in it.


How dare they?
And then I saw a BlackBerry ad that Vodafone did some time ago. The tune was quite catchy; after all we Indians love music, don't we? It showed some corporate types in neatly pressed suits jiving (?) slowly to the beat of this song that most of us had heard: “We are the BlackBerry Boys”. Even as the guys are smugly singing that they are the BlackBerry Boys, some younger, more shabbily dressed youngsters in shorts, T-shirts and with unkempt hair edge out the older, more staid guys from the frame (one of whom looked suspiciously like me) and take centre-stage to the utter discomfiture of the older guys. So what was the brand trying to say? It basically was saying that it preferred younger, hipper consumers to old fogeys like me, who it said were no longer required. I understand that every brand needs new customers and marketers will keep talking about the young Indian consumer till they are blue in the face and you are sick. Yes, you need newer customers. I agree. But does that mean I have suddenly become unwanted? I too use your brand, though not for long I am sure as such advertising makes me wonder what I am doing with a brand that does not care for me or my business.



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And then they become wistful
The latest BlackBerry commercial (a sequel) features these same old fogeys singing wistfully about the young consumers who use the phone for a lot more things, like posting status updates, downloading videos and a whole lot of stuff that people of my generation don't or can't do. There is a series of images of young people having a good time, obsessed with their own and each other's lives with the BlackBerry at the centre of action. The song becomes a dirge, almost, as the older customers demonstrate to us how sick an emotion self-pity can be, more so when it is tinged with envy for something they can't be. Again, the objective is very clear. The brand wants to be younger and more appealing to youngsters who will definitely use it with greater dexterity than people of my age will, but why ridicule them when they are already customers? And here I was thinking that advertising works when it rewards its viewers!


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Good viewing
If you go on the Net you will find lots of posts on how good the advertising is. It probably is, if you look at the creative product in isolation. Sadly, though, I tend to look at the strategy behind advertising and try not to be blinded by its ability to win awards. The basic method of increasing market share is holding on to existing customers even as brands seek newer ones. So advertising has to be inclusive and induce aspiration.

Does the Vodafone-BlackBerry advertising do this? It certainly is not inclusive even if it is appealing to youngsters and that is my bone of contention with it. Mind you, it may make a lot of kids including mine titter. But what about guys like us who own the silly thing already? You can't wish us away, can you? Can you hold our hand and take us along your path to progress with younger customers or dump us unceremoniously as your advertising attempts to do?

Even as I was fuming silently, my family came to the rescue. They bought me an iPhone for my birthday. So what if I can't figure out how to use “whatsApp”. I am sure my children, once they find time, will teach me. And thank God Apple does not care how old I am!

My time will come but not on a BlackBerry!


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