Could Justin Bieber have made a difference to Blackberry’s fortunes had they taken up his offer to become their brand ambassador in 2007?
This is the question many are now asking.
Blackberry isn’t totally dead yet, but obituaries are already being written. The latest takes the form of Businessweek’s cover story which features an oral history on the rise and present swansong of the Canadian smartphone maker, including a possibly epic missed opportunity six years ago.
Vincent Washington, BlackBerry’s senior business development manager for a decade until 2011, told Business Week what happened when Bieber’s team made the company (then known as RIM) a fairly cheap offer.
“One thing we missed out on was that Justin Bieber wanted to rep BlackBerry. He said, ‘Give me $200,000 and 20 devices, and I’m your brand ambassador,’ basically (sic),” recalls Washington.
“We pitched that to marketing: Here’s a Canadian kid, he grew up here, all the teeny-boppers will love that. They basically threw us out of the room. They said, ‘This kid is a fad. He’s not going to last.’ I said at the meeting: ‘This kid might outlive RIM.’ Everyone laughed,” he added.
It’s the kind of what if Washington clearly can’t forget.
On a par with the numerous publishers who rejected the manuscript for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, until a decision by Christopher Little and Bloomsbury Publishing changed the landscape of children’s books.
Currently, Blackberry is hemorrhaging millions of dollars and is now valued at less than $4 billion from $83 billion back in 2008. That’s a jaw-dropping slide of nearly 85 percent. This September the company revealed it would be laying off 4,500 employees. It also signed the worthy but dull Alicia Keys as a creative director, which has done little to nothing for its stats.
In contrast, while Bieber’s graffiti exploits — and the rest — bring many out in hives, Shawty Mane is getting paid. His controversial but lucrative Believe world tour grossed $155 million, and the 19-year-old’s fortune is estimated at north of $130 million. His signature 2010 “Baby” hit is the highest selling single in US history.
If celebrity is partly about how much people want to know about you, Justin trumped British Royals — even after Prince William and Kate had their first-born — to become Bing’s most searched for person in the UK in 2013.
Heck, even when Bieber’s asleep the videos he appears in go viral.
The polarizing teen star presently ranks at #9 on Forbes’ world’s most powerful celebrities list, and he can sure shift units. His “Girlfriend” perfume was 2012’s best-selling celebrity fragrance and his “Someday” perfume was the highest selling celebrity fragrance in 2011.
Bieber’s most recent tech investment is a simple social network photo app “Shots Of Me,” that was preceded by investments in Spotify, a music and restaurant rating startup named Stamped, video-sharing app Viddy, social gaming company Sojo Studios, and Facebook game WeTopia, to name a few.
With the Canadian’s over 47 million Twitter followers, 11 million plus on Instagram, and 54 million and counting on Facebook; imagine if Blackberry could have tapped those numbers? They could have ridden that Belieber power all the way to the bank.
Of course, back in 2007 who could have really known Bieber would quantum from YouTube star to worldwide phenomenon after “One Time,” “Baby,” and “Somebody To Love” basically destroyed the charts from 2009-10? Bieber Fever, guided and cultivated under his manager Scooter Braun, Usher, and Island Def Jam Music Group was just getting going.
No, Blackberry couldn’t have foreseen what Bieber would become. But then, apparently they didn’t see a lot of things.