RIM's PlayBook Campaign: Why You Shouldn't Disparage Competitors

Last Updated May 30, 2011 11:44 PM EDT

To promote the introduction of their new PlayBook tablet computer, Research In Motion (RIM) is employing a marketing campaign with the headline "Amateur Hour is Over." Rather than beat around the bush, I'll just come out and say it. Those that created and approved this campaign should be fired. Don't they know that knocking competitors and doing so with hubris breaks important rules of marketing and makes you look like an amateur? Apparently, they don't.

What are they missing?

Too many companies with a technical focus are product-driven. For them, the world exists inside the four walls of their company and in the heads of their "brilliant" product designers and developers. They are oblivious to what is in the minds of buyers or others whom they need to influence in the marketplace. As such, they presume that their company is the greatest, their products are the best, and it is all right to tell the world that they are superior and their competitors are amateurs.

How should they be thinking?
Good marketers are market or customer-driven. They know that disparaging competitors...

  • Makes you look unprofessional.
  • Does not give buyers reasons to buy your product.
  • Puts down the customers of competitors, and causes them to steer their friends and followers away from you.
  • Makes you look arrogant and insecure at the same time
  • Puts a target on your back if your product does not match up.
This is why IBM has always had a policy against disparaging a competitor.

Journalists taking target practice at RIM
Thanks to RIM's provocative campaign, the media is having a field day with the news that Playbook is being recalled because of operating system glitches. Here are some sample headlines from articles written about the PlayBook's introduction problems.

  • Marc Webber Tobias on Forbes.com: "Blackberry Playbook: Amateur Hour is Not Quite Over."
  • Mark Walsh on Mediapost.com: "Has Amateur Hour Just Started? RIM's PlayBook Flub?"
  • Hugo Miller on Bloomberg.com: "RIM Recalls 1,000 PlayBooks Tablets Because of Operating-System Glitch."
  • John Paczkowski on Digital Daily: "Actually, Amateur Hour Seems Far From Over, RIM."
Digging a deeper marketing hole
RIM was already in a hole because it has been late to market with a tablet product and losing market share to the Apple's iPhone and Google's Android platform. Having this glitch upon introduction of the PlayBook has put then into a deeper hole - especially since the early reviews of the PlayBook have not exactly set the world on fire.

Copying Apple at the same time you are knocking them is just stupid.
When RIM introduced the Blackberry, the marketplace viewed them as an innovative company. Since Apple introduced the iPhone and the iPad, they seem to have ceded any leadership to Apple. In addition to copying Apple's products, they have been copying Apple's marketing. If you visit RIM's web site, they feature the Blackberry Bold with the tagline "Touching is believing." Apple used the exact same headline four to five years ago when they introduced the iPhone. Because it does not contain a unique or important product benefit, it was not such a good headline for Apple. It is a far worse headline for RIM because (1) it copies Apple and (2) the touch screen is no longer a distinguishing feature since it has been on smart-phones for over 5 years.

What can marketers learn from this botched introduction of the PlayBook?

  • Have a good play book, or plan, before you introduce a new product.
  • Don't disparage your competitors (especially if the ones you are knocking are the most valuable brands and technology companies in the world).
  • Don't copy competitors since it makes you a follower rather than a leader and makes you look more stupid for disparaging them.
  • Don't arrogantly tell customers how great your product is. Rather tell them what it will do for them that others don't.
  • Don't break marketing rules unless you know the risks and you really know what you are doing.
What do you think of RIM's disparaging while copying their competitors?

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Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California (USC). Follow him on Twitter.
image courtesy of flickr user, e27singapore
  • Ira Kalb

    Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California. He has won numerous awards for marketing and teaching, authored ten books and created marketing inventions that have made clients and students more successful. He is frequently interviewed by various media for his expertise in branding, crisis management and strategic marketing. Follow him on Twitter at @irakalb