Brand of the Day: Can BlackBerry’s New Phone Save the Foundering Company?

Under new leadership, it bets on a tablet-smartphone hybrid

With the launch of its new Passport model—a cross between a tablet and a smartphone, with a 4.5-inch square touchscreen—BlackBerry is attempting to be the comeback kid, going back to its roots and marketing itself strictly to corporate professionals.

It seems the brand is hoping that the original niche segment it catered to will bite. But it will be a long road back to the heady days when BlackBerry was so popular, it spawned the nickname "CrackBerry."

Founded in 1984 in Waterloo, Ontario, the company's launch on the mobile scene in 1999 was seen as revolutionary. Its early marketing effort courted corporate customers rather than the general market, but it became a hit with consumers anyway. In 2003, Oprah endorsed it, deeming her BlackBerry to be one of her "Favorite Things."

According to Bloomberg, the brand hit its peak in 2008, when it sold 15 million phones per quarter. But it couldn't keep up with the demand or consumers' ever-changing tastes. It had become an indispensable accessory of business executives and celebrities, but the brand completely underestimated the threat of the iPhone when it launched in 2007. 

By the second quarter of this year, BlackBerry laid claim to less than 1 percent of the global smartphone market, according to International Data Corp.

In 2010, Apple launched the iPad, and in 2011, BlackBerry launched its tablet, the Playbook, which didn't have email capability and was a major flop. The heat from that loss and the embarrassing slogan ("Amateur hour is over") didn't bode well, and in 2012, when the co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie resigned, many thought BlackBerry would exit the hardware business. But that's not what CEO John Chen has in mind. 

Social Media Profile (as of 9/25/14)

Facebook Likes: 30.3 million

Twitter Followers: 4.2 million

While the brand boasts huge numbers of followers on Twitter and Facebook, its feeds are fairly lackluster, mixing promotional messaging with some retweets. The brand doesn't bother with Instagram at all, but does maintain a Flickr presence.

Recent Advertising 

The brand has launched a new campaign for the Passport, saying business professionals can use it to bolster their confidence and help them make the "big decisions." 

Fast Facts

  • The first mobile BlackBerry device was released in 1999 as a two-way pager called the 850.
  • The BlackBerry name came from the keyboard, which resembled the skin of fruit because of its keyboard stippling
  • In 2003, the brand launched its first smartphone that supported email and web browsing. 
  • During the 2008 election, President Barack Obama was quite attached to his BlackBerry, so much so that many saw it as a celebrity endorsement.