BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has admitted that they were behind the "WAKE UP" protest outside a Sydney, Australia Apple Store last week. Initial reports linked the campaign to Samsung, which will be unveiling their Galaxy S III smartphone at the end of this week. Samsung, however, denied responsibility. Further digging into the source code for the campaign's Wake Up Australia website uncovered evidence that RIM might have been the culprit.
According to a report by The Age, RIM representatives in Australia have confirmed that they were responsible for the WAKE UP campaign, "which involves a series of experiential activities taking place across Sydney and Melbourne."
Though there was speculation that Australian blogger Nate "Blunty" Burr, who happened to be at the Apple Store when the protest was staged, might have been in RIM's employ. He has done work for RIM in the past, including an extremely favorable review of the BlackBerry PlayBook. The company's representatives denied that he was paid to be there. It's worth noting that they do not say whether he was asked to be there, or forewarned that something would be happening at the Apple Store at that time. Burr's video of the protest has featured prominently in coverage of the event.
While initial reports suggested that the counter on the Wake Up Australia website might be leading up to Samsung's announcement of the Galaxy S III, further investigation found that the counter would not run out on May 3rd, when Samsung is set to unveil the device. Further speculation suggested that perhaps the counter was leading up to the Australian launch of the device. In fact, according to RIM's representatives, the counter is actually leading up to the launch of the BlackBerry 10 operating system, a "reveal" that is designed "to provoke conversation on what 'being in business' means to Australians."
When the campaign was thought to be Samsung's doing, it was widely regarded as a fairly ridiculous stunt, but not terribly out of character for Samsung. It was seen as being an especially bizarre manifestation of the company's peculiar fixation on its rival. The fact that RIM is actually behind the campaign puts a new and, frankly, rather sad perspective on the whole situation. The fact that it didn't occur to anybody that RIM might be behind it shows a couple of things: first, this kind of stunt is way out of character for RIM, and hardly seems consistent with their stated intention to refocus on the business segments of the consumer market. Second, it shows that the majority of people don't consider RIM in the same league as Apple anymore. When we began casting around for a culprit, Samsung made sense in large part because they are Apple's chief competitor (and may be the top smartphone maker in the world). Once Samsung disavowed the campaign, though, still no one thought of RIM, because RIM isn't a major competitor for Apple anymore.
The simple fact is, RIM is in major trouble. The consumer smartphone revolution that was begun by Apple in 2007 and accelerated by Android in 2008 caught them completely off guard, and they have never managed to recover. The BlackBerry platform has suffered massive losses in market share to iOS and Android, even being passed by the iPhone in Canada, where RIM is based.
The BlackBerry 10 operating system, which is set to release soon, is essentially the company's last, best hope. Numerous products that have been designed to compete with iOS and Android have been unsuccessful - including the BlackBerry Torch and the PlayBook. If BlackBerry 10 is a success, it could bring RIM back from the edge of failure. If, on the other hand, it performs poorly, it could be the final nail in RIM's coffin.
The "WAKE UP" campaign is, it seems, intended to draw attention to BlackBerry 10, in hopes of drumming up interest in the platform before its launch. In the context of RIM's recent performance, though, it smacks of desperation. What's more, when the campaign was thought to be Samsung's doing, I suggested that insulting the customer base that you're trying to woo might not be the best marketing strategy. The fact that RIM is behind the campaign makes that issue all the more important. Samsung can afford to pick on Apple fans. RIM can't. Whether BlackBerry 10 succeeds or fails, this campaign isn't likely to do RIM any favors.
Is this campaign a good move for RIM? Would you be more likely to try a BlackBerry 10 smartphone after being told to wake up by a bunch of shouting protesters? Can BlackBerry 10 manage to save RIM's bacon? Let us know what you think in the comments.