What’s The Deal With Struggling Tech Companies And Celebrities? [Opinion]

Alicia Keys thinks Blackberry is totally "fly."

Alicia Keys thinks BlackBerry is totally “fly.”

Despite the fact that she uses an iPhone, Alicia Keys joined BlackBerry’s CEO onstage today to announce her new position at the company as “Global Creative Director.” After giving a creepy analogy about her and BlackBerry “exclusively dating,” Keys skirted a question about what phone she used before her BlackBerry. That’s probably because she was a self-proclaimed “iPhone junky.”

The idea of a famous artist/non-technology expert like Alicia Keys getting in bed with BlackBerry may seem weird, but this isn’t something new. For years struggling tech companies have been using faux-celebrity partnerships and endorsements as a desperate plea for attention.

“Having a famous face pimp your product will only get you so far”

BlackBerry is one of the most obvious, painful examples. The Z10 is a decent smartphone, but BlackBerry and its investors know that the company is barely staying afloat at this point. Innovation is dead at BlackBerry. And what’s worse is that companies like BlackBerry are so out of touch with consumers that they think promoting a celebrity to a fake “director” position will help make their devices cool. Having a famous face pimp your product will only get you so far. Sure, it will get you some publicity, but it’s not going to sway any sane customer to actually buy your product.

Will.i.am. knows his processors, yo.

Will.i.am. knows his processors, yo.

Then there’s Intel, a company that’s not in the minds of most consumers anyway. Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas was recently made Intel’s “Director of Creative Innovation.” It’s such a marketing gimmick. The only real thing Will.i.am has done in the tech industry since then is announce an absurdly overpriced iPhone case.

Sure, Intel wants a little press attention. I get that. It works. But it also says something about the company. It’s a disconnected mindset where corporate suits say, “Hey, you know what’s cooler than a celebrity? A CELEBRITY WHO IS ALSO OUR DIRECTOR OF CREATIVITY!”

Lady Gaga (who tweets from her iPad) is the “creative director for a specialty line of Polaroid Imaging products.” Microsoft brings Jessica Alba (who has also been spotted using an iPhone) out onstage to praise Windows Phone. Oprah gushes about her love for the Surface while tweeting from her iPad.

Apple’s Approach

No one smiles while using Siri in real life.

This is all in stark contrast to the way Apple does things. Sure, celebrities will appear in TV ads occasionally, but the way Apple uses famous faces to promote its brand is very different from just about every other tech company.

“At Apple launch events, the only star is the iPhone”

Can you imagine Tim Cook bringing Alec Baldwin onstage at the next Apple event and naming him the “Director of Creativity And Innovation?”

No. That sounds preposterous.

Yet that’s what all these other companies are doing. Apple uses celebrities and artists to keep itself connected with modern culture. The closest you get to a celebrity “endorsement” is The Foo Fighters or John Mayer playing a set after a press event. And there are no “here are three reasons I love my iPhone more than any other smartphone” paid testimonials.

As Om Malik puts it, “at Apple launch events, the only star is the iPhone.” Apple wants its products to sell themselves, and that’s the best kind of advertising.

  • bdkennedy

    I believe they do this when the top executives have no stage presence or personality. Given that she probably doesn’t have a Blackberry yet, it was still stupid tweeting about it from her iPhone. She’s already screwing up.

  • Aaron17Watson

    Well obviously celebrities always use apple products because it has a prestige to it. I agree with you alex, i dont find it cool to bring out celebrities to praise their products. The products should speak for themselves. But its really unnecessary to make fun of them. :(

  • lymenlee

    What are you guys talking about? This is a HUGE step forward compare to the ad campaign they did not so long ago:
    http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2012/01/31/rims-comeback-plan-for-blackberry-cartoon-superheroes/

  • Bob Smogango

    It’s because people relate to their favorite celebrity and they want to emulate them as much as they can. it’s kind of cheesy, but the musical instrument, clothing, automotive industries have been doing this for decades. It’s just now moving to high tech companies. I guess the high tech industry wants to be the fifth of the four jewels of the celebrity endorsement dollar. Shoe, car, clothing, soft drink, computers.

  • Bob Smogango

    Well obviously celebrities always use apple products because it has a prestige to it. I agree with you alex, i dont find it cool to bring out celebrities to praise their products. The products should speak for themselves. But its really unnecessary to make fun of them. :(

    The music industry uses mostly Apple products. They just finished NAMM show in Anaheim and there was pretty much no Android or Windows RT apps whatsoever. It’s all about iPads and iPhones for music education, creation and production, along with OS X and WIndows desktop apps, but there are several companies that either dropped WIndows support altogether, or are just OS X/iOS only. Most top recording studios are Mac shops running ProTools and Logic and maybe a few other apps.

  • lwdesign1

    Using celebrities to endorse products is not new. The stupid part of Blackberry’s and Intel’s marketing campaign with Alicia Keys and Will.i.am is making them obviously fake “Head of Creative Innovation”, etc. when you know they don’t do any of that. If you’re going to create a marketing campaign, it has to make sense. Otherwise it just opens itself to ridicule.

  • hanhothi

    I thought that was a bloke until I read the flyer and took a second look, yes, there are a pair of tits. Women in men’s cloths? Uuk!

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath is a staff writer at Cult of Mac and co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by the likes of the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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