Blackberry’s reputation and the London riots
Could Blackberry experience the same problems of undersirable customer associations like Burberry? About six years ago, Burberry was suffering something of an identity crisis. The historic British brand, famed for its beige check fabric and trench coats had once been a desired designer on the backs of A-listers everywhere. But by 2005, the name Burberry had become synonymous, in the UK at least, with the much maligned ‘chav’ class.
For the uninitiated, the term ‘chav’ has come to be applied to a disruptive youth sub-culture, epitomised by loutish behaviour, a penchant for ostentatious jewellery and most famously, Burberry print clothing. The theory that the term originally derives from the acronym “Council House And Violent” might be apocryphal, but is an engaging story nonetheless.
Burberry had extended into leisurewear in the 1970s, which led to the brand becoming a favourite designer label of the football hooligans in the 1980s, the precursors to the modern ‘chav’. The Burberry brand was beginning to suffer, and current COO Christopher Bailey has worked hard to distance the company from its adoption by the chav sub-culture. His efforts have been largely successful at protecting the authentic Burberry brand, thanks in part to an ad campaign that restore the quintessential ‘Britishness’ of the brand, and the label’s rediscovery and updating of classic designs from its past. The idea of fake Burberry has become part or the stereotypical chav image.
In the wake of the riots that have taken place in London recently, the local media has discussed extensively the role of Blackberry’s BBM service by the criminal elements involved in the looting and destructive activity. The term ‘BBM’ has joined words like ‘hoodie’ 'end' (gang) and ‘fed’ (policeman) in the lexicon of London riot reporting. Much has been made of the anonymous nature of BBM, which has enabled ringleaders to incite rioting behaviour and co-ordinate gang activity ahead of the police. There have been several calls by politicians for the BBM service to be disabled by Blackberry owners Research in Motion in an attempt to curb gangs planning further activity. The company website was later hacked and a message was posted on the official Inside Blackberry blog, warning Research In Motion against cooperating with the UK police.
Once the riots have been suppressed and the inquests and recriminations have begun, the role played by social media channels, and BBM in particular, will be under scrutiny. Blackberry’s ground-breaking messaging service will become indelibly linked to the greatest civil unrest in the UK for a generation, and unlike Burberry, RIM and Blackberry don’t have an artistic pedigree to fall back on to restore its brand equity. Some very muscular PR, if not a name-change, is in order I think.
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