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Belinda Parmar Headshot

Forget Alicia Keys. BlackBerry Need a More Authentic Voice to Talk to Women

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Their market share has dropped from 20% three years ago to 3.4% in December. More than 90% of smartphones run on either Apple or Android software. You might say that everything is riding on the launch of their new operating system BB10, and flagship phone, the Z10.

So what better way to mark this momentous event than to announce - at the launch event, no less - the appointment of the new Creative Director! The industry titan that is going to lead the BlackBerry charge, whose creativity, innovation and inspiration is going to restore them back to former... What's that you say? It's Alicia Keys? Really?

Celebrity endorsements are, of course, nothing new, and they can often be an effective marketing ploy. Find the right celeb - an authentic advocate - for your brand and it can give it a much needed publicity shot in the arm.

But this hardly feels like a natural marriage. Who out there has ever thought 'I like this BlackBerry, but you know who would be perfect at redesigning it? The singer of 'Girl on Fire'!.'? Of course it doesn't help that only a few days ago she was tweeting from her iPhone...

BlackBerry's desperate grab for street cred feels a bit too much like those PR disasters where out-of-touch politician try to 'get hip' and fail miserably: remember Gordon Brown pretending to love The Arctic Monkeys?

In recent years a trend has developed to try and sugarcoat celebrity paydays by giving them fancy job titles - see Will I. Am at Intel, or Lady Gaga at Polaroid - implying they're not just standing waving around the product in exchange for a big bag of cash, they're actually, like, using their creative genius to make it sooo much cooler.

Deep down I suppose I'd really like BlackBerry - and all tech companies - to have more faith in their own creative team, to put them front and centre. Do Apple need a 'famous' creative director? No. Why not? Because, in Sir Jonathan Ive, they've got a lead designer who they've made famous.

What this appointment tells us is that BlackBerry doesn't believe that any of its genuine creatives are worth celebrating as much as Ms. Keys, and that their work needs to be cloaked in a celebrity smokescreen in order to withstand our scrutiny. It doesn't inspire a lot of faith in the new line.

Titles like 'Creative Director' are important. They give the next generation somewhere to look up to. Throwing them away on celebrities cheapens the whole industry. What does it tell all the aspiring young techies out there - particularly the girls, who are already feeling alienated by an industry where they are in the minority? Q: How does a young girl grow up to become creative director of a major mobile phone manufacturer? A: Become a famous R&B singer, first, obviously.

Most misguided of all is the idea that this appointment is designed to appeal to a previously untapped BlackBerry market - working mums. Dear BlackBerry: we're not all going to rush out and buy your phone just because some singer tells us to.

At Lady Geek our research has found that women value authenticity in a brand. They don't want big slogans or random celebrity endorsements. They want a product that is honest, that speaks to them, that doesn't try to pull the wool over their eyes.

Employing a random celebrity to try and lend yourselves some street cred is not the way to do it. I'd have been much more inspired if BlackBerry had given this honorary title to a young mother, say, or a 15-year old BBM-er. It would make a statement that it is the users that really matter when it comes to the design process.

BlackBerry has always been a brand that is very sure of its character, which is why it's so disheartening to see it clutching at these desperate marketing straws. It's understandable that recent troubles have spooked them into headline-grabbing by any means necessary, but if they really want to make a comeback - as well as capturing the female market - they need to go back to the drawing board, think long and hard about their brand and find a new, more authentic approach.

At Lady Geek we understand the importance of Authentic Advocacy when it comes to marketing towards women. We partnered with Nokia to celebrate the launch of the Lumia, we decided not to put the phones in the hands of paid celebrities or the 'usual suspects' but instead give them to 50 remarkable women, each with a voice that needed to be heard.

Our approach to authentic marketing follows two principles:

1) Cherry pick authentic ambassadors. We know why celebrities endorse products. Choose authentic people that other women can be inspired by and who genuinely love the product.

2). Have faith in your product. If you are honest about your product and believe in it's capabilities, you don't need a celebrity loudly tweeting about it. Just tell us. People will get the message, and they'll be much more likely to believe it.

I'm rooting wholeheartedly for BlackBerry to make a comeback. The mobile phone market needs more competition.

But to do so they need to strip away the bull, drop the diversionary tactics and start letting their products speak for themselves. Do that, and women will start listening.

@belindaparmar is the CEO of Lady Geek, and the author of Little Miss Geek: out in paperback and Kindle edition on Amazon.

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