Chapter Three: RIM's Promotional Discourse


This chapter looks at the language RIM uses to describe its products, and in particular, their use of metaphor. It analyzes how RIM promotes the BlackBerry; from positioning it as a tool of productivity to its suggested usages as well as how the messaging has shifted in the promotion of the Pearl.

RIM's websites for the BlackBerry and Pearl have been chosen as the sites for analysis as they are the most complete source of RIM's promotional materials for both devices. Examining the discourse used by RIM is of particular importance due to the dominance the company holds in the wireless industry. As has been previously established, RIM is a leader in the wireless email industry and as such the company arguably has the potential to influence industry-wide discourse, and hence popular understandings of the technology. Not only was RIM the first company in the wireless email industry but its products continue to be the most popular as demonstrated by the company's sales numbers and the BlackBerry's cultural caché established through early adaptation by influencers in business and political. While RIM's discourse is not the only influencer in shaping societal understandings of the technology and product, it is one of the primary sources of descriptive language about the BlackBerry and Pearl. The examination of the language used by contemporary media and popular culture, as well as the influences these representations have on how the technology integrated into social lives will be explored in Chapter Four.

Metaphor in Advertising

As was mentioned in Chapter One, a significant body of academic literature supports the examination of technological discourses. Works by Ursula Franklin, Marita Sturken, Douglas Thomas, Paul du Gay, and Hughie Mackay and Gareth Gillespie were cited in establishing this framework. Franklin (1990) claims that that language reveals a society's values and priorities, and as such, makes language worth close examination. Du Gay et al. (1997) argue that advertising and promotional texts are worthy of study because of what they reveal about the surrounding ideology of technological products. Sturken and Thomas' (2004) central claim is that language is used to define technology and that our representations of it are fundamental to how it is integrated into our social lives (p.8). While a multiplicity of understandings of what the BlackBerry means undoubtedly exist as each user of the BlackBerry will interpret their use and interaction slightly differently, a significant component of the discourse - and thereby, the creation of its meaning - that surrounds the BlackBerry comes from the promotional materials RIM has created. To gain insights into current societal concerns and values (albeit, concerns that have been identified by RIM) that are expressed through the discourse surrounding the BlackBerry, one must include an examination of RIM's promotional materials.

Advertising's influence on culture and identity-making is a well developed concept that a number of cultural studies theorists have written about, including Du Gay et al. (1997), Sturken (2004), and Towers et al. (2005). Langdon Winner (2004) argues that consumer goods are promoted as a way of symbolically establishing one's identity and social standing (p.39), while Towers et al. (2005) couple the consumer goods argument with a specific technological reference: they claim that in today's world of consumer goods, technology plays a "significant" role in constructing identity (p.27). They also cite the work of Schlooser (2002) who claims that BlackBerry users employ the device to promote an image of the self that projects social status (p.27). The role marketing plays in how technologies are promoted is also written about by Mackay and Gillespie (1997):

Advertising is central to the mobilization of meanings and associations, in its selling of commodities. A large part of the advertising industry is devoted to the construction of and mobilization of symbolic associations surrounding commodities - especially domestic consumer technologies (p.697).

Middleton (2007) claims that the BlackBerry brand engenders its own unique cultural identity, noting that "[The BlackBerry,] unlike other competing devices, embodies a distinct cultural identity, and has become part of the 'cultural universe' in North America and beyond" (p.1). Middleton's (2007) reference to the "cultural universe" draws on Du Gay's et al's (1997) definition of the term. A product that carries its own unique cultural identity did not likely achieve that distinction based solely on its technological merits, but as part of a marketing and/or advertising campaign. David Nye (2006) recounts the story of the industry show-down between Sony's Betamax and JVC's Video Home System (VHS). Both systems were released at approximately the same time, however JVC's marketing campaign won out over Sony's technologically superior product which resulted in Betamax losing out on becoming the industry standard. Nye recounts the incident as a sad but familiar story in which "marketing, not technological excellence, proved crucial" (p.43). This anecdote is not to suggest that RIM holds inferior technology and design, but rather that, its external communication strategy (including everything from its promotional materials, strategic marketing, and government relations) likely played a vital role in helping the product and company achieve its current status. It is the power marketing yields in shaping understandings of technology that prompts an examination of the language used to promote the BlackBerry and Pearl.

Corporate messaging and advertising use an array of literary devices and marketing ploys, of which metaphor plays an important role. The metaphor is a powerful tool used to imbue meaning and context in any literary landscape, no less so in corporate communications where the device is used to create connections between products and the target audience. For the purposes of this thesis the definition of metaphor will remain high-level, as a broad definition will suffice to accomplish the work this chapter will document. The most basic description of a metaphor is that it is a rhetorical device used to compare one object to another seemingly unrelated object. This chapter focuses on metaphors used to take abstract concepts and translate them into more common and easily understood terms.

Several rhetorical theorists write about how metaphors are used to help comprehend abstract objects with comparisons to everyday objects. Deirdre McCloskey (1985) writes that the metaphor is " appeal for a lower level of abstraction, closer to the episodes of human life" (p.15). George Lakoff and Mark Johnson write that metaphor is the "…main mechanism through which we comprehend abstract concepts and perform abstract reasoning," and that "…metaphor is a tool that grounds experience in the body and everyday experience and knowledge" (p.244-245). Douglas Kellner (2006) has spoken about metaphors of nature and the physical world being employed in order to promote technology as naturalizing a foreign technology into our everyday lives; for example, by describing it as a previously experienced and familiar everyday object. Kellner (2006) provides obvious examples such as a computer named Macintosh Apple, a computer operating system named Windows, and an email device called a BlackBerry. These examples are all physical objects from everyday life which help give these technical devices a vivid and familiar image. The promotion of the BlackBerry, for any audience, has always required the use of metaphor to bring the abstracted technical concepts ensconced in its technology into more easily-relatable personal benefits. Metaphor is used throughout the BlackBerry and Pearl websites to create the context and applicability for their product.

RIM's Websites

RIM has two separate websites to promote the BlackBerry ( and the Pearl ( due to the company's differing target audiences. Screenshots of RIM and BlackBerry websites have been included in the text of the thesis to serve as a reference for a basis of comparison with the descriptions and analysis that will follow.

Screenshot of the BlackBerry website - January 2007
Image 3.1
Screenshot of BlackBerry Pearl website - January 2007:
Image 3.2

RIM also has a corporate website ( that contains information such as financial reports, press releases and job listings.

Screenshot of RIM's website - January 2007
Image 3.3

The BlackBerry and Pearl websites are the focus of this chapter. All of RIM's websites are information rich and have a high production value. The BlackBerry site serves as a portal for product information on all BlackBerrys, including links to the Pearl, as the site directs visitors to discover the "right" BlackBerry for them.

Upon entering the BlackBerry website the process of audience segmentation begins, as site visitors are given the choice to enter the website under the icons for "Individuals" or "Business". The two main sections are further subdivided, with the "Individuals" tab being broken into "BlackBerry for Life" and "BlackBerry for Work", and subheadings under the "Business" tab being broken down into "BlackBerry for Enterprise", "BlackBerry for Small & Medium Business", and "BlackBerry for Government". Despite the separate points of entry, many of the links found on both the "Individual" and "Business" pages loop back to the same information. These subsections are the primary categories of RIM's target audience: Consumer, Prosumer, and Corporate. The Prosumer stands in as the "Individual" on the BlackBerry website, with the Pearl website targeted toward the Consumer market.

The use of images to create context begins immediately with two prominent graphics on the landing page for the BlackBerry (see Image 3.1). On the left-hand side under the 'Individuals' tab there is the face of a freshly-scrubbed young woman who is wearing futuristic sunglasses while staring upward and clearly conveying a sense of intrepid individualism. The right hand side of the page, under the "Business" tab is an icon of a desktop monitor. The use of the office desk as a user-interface design metaphor for computers is a well-established practice, argues Douglas Kellner (2006). Evocative and familiar images are used to support textual content, with images supporting and creating their own metaphors. The following section will take the reader through a description of the website, with elaborations on the metaphors embedded in the text and images.

BlackBerry Website for Business Users

As of December 2006, the BlackBerry Pearl had only recently been launched and was still prominently featured on the Business page of RIM's corporate website (see Image 3.3). By clicking on the Pearl link, the viewer is taken to a separate Pearl website which will be examined in great detail later in this chapter. The three main areas of content on the Business page are listed under "Industry", "Business Needs", and "Business Type". There are ten industries to choose from in a drop-down menu, including: financial services, government, healthcare, insurance, legal, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, public safety, real estate, and wholesale & retail. When the user selects an industry they are taken to a page filled with content highlighting the BlackBerry's particular strength for that industry. Below is a screenshot of this page:

BlackBerry Business Solutions Screenshot - January 2007
Image 3.4

There are links to industry specific white papers with titles like "Mobilizing Industry Professionals" and "Evaluating Wireless", industry brochures, webcasts, and links to examples of previously created "Partner Solutions" and the Application Demo Center. The material on the Business page is geared toward an Information Technology (IT) manager who is researching the device for use in a large corporation. The available information has some industry specificity, using examples related to one of the ten industries available in the drop-down menu, however much of the information repeats the same basic themes. The repetition is most clearly seen in the list of benefits cited under each of the ten industries RIM highlights (see Image 3.4). It appears roughly half the information is novel to the particular industry, and half of the information is recycled. When summarized, the listed benefits create the following narrative:

  • Increase productivity &
            Increased efficiencies

        Lead to…

  • Improved responsiveness &
            Improved customer service and satisfaction

        Resulting in…

  • Positive Return on Investment &
            Increased profitability/revenue

The BlackBerry is based on, and supports, a business model that is competitive, fast-moving, aggressive, and most importantly, able to deliver an edge that produces profits. The main claim made by RIM is that the BlackBerry increases productivity, which ultimately leads to increased profitability. The decision to promote the BlackBerry as a tool of efficiency is not arbitrary, but is the result of a set of "changing social imperatives and relations" (Sturken, 2004, 72) that were discussed in detail in Chapter One. The message of productivity is the core claim of the BlackBerry and is what drives the promotion for all of RIM's target audiences, Corporate, Prosumer and Consumer.

BlackBerry Website for Individual Users

The material on the website under the "Individual" user heading (versus the "Business" user) is targeted toward the Prosumer - those who purchase the device themselves and are using it for work and personal needs. Each of the subsections under the "Individuals" page link to the same content, which initially takes the user to a webpage with a tropical beach background and a BlackBerry Pearl prominently displayed mid-screen.

"Discover BlackBerry" Screenshot - June 2006
Image 3.5

The tropical beach background is the first bold hint at linking the product more closely to lifestyle than to work function. To the left of the Pearl image are four profiles of individuals who appear to be under 40 years of age. The text welcomes visitors to "Meet Mike", "Meet Liz'', "Meet Tony", and "Meet Danielle". The profiles promise to introduce the reader to a personality and/or profession that will connect with a broad section of audiences. The bottom half of the page under the Pearl photo and the profiles display four sections each with playfully colorful icons/images. The four sections connect to information on "Which BlackBerry is Right for You?", an opportunity to "Sit in the Owners Lounge", advice on "How to use your BlackBerry Device", and a link to "Popular Accessories". At the top of the "Individuals" page there are small, text-only links to "Discover BlackBerry", "Our Devices", "Personalize Your Device", "Software", "Games", "Accessories", "Need Help?", and "Where to Buy". Each of these tabs have been listed, not to belabor the reader, but to highlight the amount of content that has been created in an effort to create a website that provides the visitor with a personal connection to the company and product, from personalizing one's device with games or accessories, to simple advice on how to choose or use your BlackBerry. The site is a one-stop shopping and advice resource to help guide purchasing decisions.

The character profiles offer the richest example of the prescriptive nature of the promotional materials for the BlackBerry and Pearl, as the profiles serve as scripts to viewers, notifying them of the potential uses and image that BlackBerry use signals to others. Du Gay et al. (1997) write, "The language of ads, and the way it works by attaching meanings to identities, suggest that representation is not so much about reflecting the identities we already have as telling us what sorts of identities we can become and how" (p.39). Mackay and Gillespie (1992) reiterate this observation when they write "Consumption has come to be about using commodities to express taste and status difference (p.703). Churchill and Wakeford (2002) support this sentiment when they write "In advertisements, 'proper uses' of the mobile devices are shown, for example, actual and potential users are told to use the devices to keep in touch with the office and do email while waiting in the care for the next appointment." While it is never explicitly stated in RIM's materials, the fact that the BlackBerry is a device used and promoted to a specific class, is implicit due to the device's higher purchase and operating costs as compared to traditional mobile phones. In May 2007, BlackBerry Pearls were retailing for a suggested price of $349 USD on the T-Mobile website, a price that is 75 per cent higher than Samsung's Plum, which is a similarly-designed knockoff of the Pearl. The Pearl not only has a higher initial purchase price than that of a mobile phone, but it has higher monthly charges associated with its capability to deliver data-heavy content compared to the more inexpensive plans of voice/text-only mobile phones. RIM embraces this high-end status that developed while the product was still a tool used only by "jet-setting executives" and other high-powered influencers. While the Pearl is more affordable since it was designed and marketed for a broader market, RIM continues to promote the Pearl with a high-end esthetic and image.

The BlackBerry is targeted to a certain professional and monied class, and the company wraps its products in some of life's most core symbolic associations: success, family, and leisure. The profiles detail each character's work, home, and leisure time, and provides a context for how the BlackBerry's functions fit into each of these pockets of time to make it the most productive and rewarding time possible. The profiles designate specific careers and vacation locales, reference family configurations and social networks, and provide visual cues that reinforce several stereotypical gender and class assumptions. To be fair, RIM is not attempting to represent a diversity of experiences in its promotional material. As a manufacturer of a consumer product its goal is to sell as many units as possible to maximize profit; this is done by reaching out to the broadest possible audience by presenting the foundational characteristics that resonate with the highest common-denominator of potential users. These basic characteristics include real and inspirational goals that are presented in the categories of work, home and play. The mere fact that life has been broken down into these three categories speaks volumes about the values that are being interpreted and reflected back about how time should be spent. These are uniquely North American values, and if the same promotional messages are being used in foreign countries, it is fair to say that RIM is one of North America's many contributors to cultural imperialism - that is, exporting North American culture to the rest of the world.

Most interesting is the fact there is a dedicated category for leisure, what RIM categorizes as "Play," that comes in a close third behind work and family. In another era, that third category may have included religious or community service commitments, however those activities are hardly conducive to the "work hard/consume more" lifestyle in which the BlackBerry is invested. By examining the profiles that RIM has created to connect with the needs or lifestyle (aspirations) of their potential customers, one can gain a very specific picture of the audience the company is implying.

Each of the four profiles features the character using his/her BlackBerry in a physical environment that fits with the locales their profession might take them. Before the web visitor begins reading the content of the profile, the profile character's profession is visually intimated by the clothes and locales in which they are photographed (see Image 3.5). The first profile is of Mike, a businessman wearing a suit and sitting in an airport lounge. The second profile is of Liz, a smiling brunette who is wearing a pink blouse and hugging a child. Tony is the third profile character and has a 5 o'clock shadow that belies his ruggedness almost as equally as his construction helmet and zip-up jacket. The fourth and final profile features Danielle, the same featured on the BlackBerry homepage who is wearing futuristic sunglasses. When the user selects a profile they are taken to a page that reveals a large picture of each character and a selection of text off to the right of the image that covers how the character uses the BlackBerry at Work, Home, and Play. Image follows below:

Mike's Profile - At Work, Home, and Play, January 2007
Image 3.6

The photo of Mike portrays the image of a suave, in-charge businessman; he is commandingly, yet casually, reclined on a bench in an airport lobby and is wearing a suit. The text under the "At Work" section praises Mike's business acumen enabled by the multi-functionality of the BlackBerry. The text asks how he is able to do it all and still have time for his family and answers that the BlackBerry simplifies his life by keeping him connected. Under the "At Home" heading the opening line is that "Mike's family means everything to him", yet his more than occasional forgetfulness about his children's games or anniversary "could make his home life uncomfortable." The BlackBerry's calendaring function enables him to schedule his family into his life by keeping track of his family's various events and allowing his wife to reach him at any time. The "At Play" function highlights Mike's luxurious vacations and how he values them because he rarely gets away. The text reads: "When he finally does get a vacation, he plays all the great courses - Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, Cancun." For Mike, leisure is a serious pursuit, something well-deserved, and he has the money to indulge his implied "right" to these luxuries in a manner befitting his hard work. This pattern of privileging family and leisure continues throughout the remaining three profiles.

In keeping with presenting traits or experiences that are held by the most number of their prospective customers, RIM also presents stories of personal hardship while people are away from their families. It is unexpected that RIM is forthcoming about highlighting the disadvantages of road travel with vignettes such as this one found in Mike's profile: "He sets his alarm on his device so he remembers to call home while the kids are awake." Followed by "…sitting in his lonely hotel room, he may even play a game of golf - on his BlackBerry device." It is clear all parties involved in the world of the "mobile professional" recognize the sacrifices being made in quality of life and family time. However, the BlackBerry's connectivity technology is used to rationalize the distance and separation. Those who make their living as mobile professionals are invited to accept the narrative RIM spins about the BlackBerry as a way of rationalizing the social costs of using this technology. The aspirational scenarios presented in the profiles are generally happy; BlackBerry users are productive and entrepreneurial, and their stories are about leaders and winners. The achievements do not come without sacrifice on the part of the BlackBerry user, but it is those sacrifices that enable them to accomplish their current successes.

The second profile features Liz, the smiling woman in a pink blouse. Upon opening her profile we see that she is with her child in what looks like a classroom. Although the text doesn't specifically declare her a real estate agent, in the "At Work" section they write about Liz being a pro and always having up-to-date Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and keeping up with buyers and sellers. If it were not for the MLS specificity, based on the picture it appears as though Liz is a school teacher or a mom at school to pick up her daughter. The gender stereotyping does not end with Liz in a pink blouse and visually presenting her as a caretaker first and professional second. It is made explicit that Liz is a caretaker foremost when the text goes on to declare: "Most importantly (emphasis added), while Liz is selling, she knows things are fine at home because her BlackBerry device helps keep her connected." The most emphasized fact in Liz's profile is that she can still manage a household while working. Oddly enough, no similar mention is made of either profiled male character maintaining a household in addition to working, other than Mike who encounters "uncomfortable home situations" after he has forgotten or been absent from significant family events.

The "At Home" section on Liz's profile highlights how busy Liz is kept on the weekends managing client meetings and chauffeuring her kids to sport practices. Liz can "keep connected" while working on the weekend. When Liz "finally gets some down time" as highlighted in the "At Play" section, she heads to a local spa, a short ski trip, or spends time hanging "with the girls." Not only are work representations and family responsibilities gender stereotyped, but so too are leisure activities. Liz takes her breaks at a spa while Mike relaxes by playing golf. Leisure is presented as being a rare and well-deserved treat. However, RIM promises to keep you connected to your work while taking those "breaks". The difference in women's and men's use of technology appears to be addressed by stressing a gender-stereotyped version where women use the technology to connect primarily to family and friends, and men use the device to connect primarily to work. These stereotypes exist on the Pearl website as well, but to a lesser degree as both the men and women who are profiled all have careers in the slightly less sexually-segregated "creative professions." The concept of creative professionals was discussed in Chapter One of this thesis, using the 2003 work of Richard Florida. The issue of work-life balance and the implications of technological mediation on public and private life will be discussed in Chapter Four, pulling from Linda Duxbury's and Chris Higgins' 2001 report on the same topic.

The third character profiled is Tony, who is pictured in a construction scene wearing a hard hat and a zip-up coat. When the user selects his profile the larger picture shows Tony with two large sets of rolled-up building plans slung over his shoulder. The text reveals that Tony's job takes him all over town - from job sites, to client appointments, to his office. The BlackBerry helps Tony keep track of everything and "keep connected." The "At Home: section reveals he doesn't have a family of his own, but he loves sports and uses his BlackBerry to keep track of scores and email them to his friends. Tony is one of the two single profile characters from the group of four, and in his profile friends have replaced family as Tony's daily social network. On the weekend he keeps busy with sports and uses the BlackBerry to research tropical vacations and emails his clients to let them know who is taking his place while he is gone. The leisure activities that are listed in the profiles, which are likely enjoyed by at least some of BlackBerry's customers, have the flavor of aspirational branding. RIM is featuring the most commonly held ideas of "dream vacations" and presenting them as a common, and in fact necessary, feature of life for a professional who has reached the level at which he/she is considering purchasing a BlackBerry. The message seems to be that if you are at the point that you need to use a BlackBerry, then you have "made it" and are living a lifestyle most people dream about.

Family and leisure are the two most heavily promoted ideas among the four profiles, and for the purposes of promoting the BlackBerry these areas are related to the overarching idea of mobility. The connectivity the BlackBerry provides is what enables these characters to connect to their families while they are absent on the job. However, the same connectivity also paradoxically leads to users being mentally absent from their family and friends when they have leisure time with them. The BlackBerry user is everywhere and nowhere, as they dislocate themselves from their physical reality by interacting with their present and physical realities through technological mediation.

The fourth and final profile is of Danielle, who is wearing futuristic sunglasses and is pictured with a blue sky background. She is a global road warrior who is away from home so much "she hardly has time to unpack." The BlackBerry helps her get things done, making her useful in unfamiliar offices by enabling her to receive direct calls and pull up files. Danielle is portrayed as the archetypical successful single professional woman in her thirties. She is a marketing executive who's always taking care of business, and yet maintains a full social life; she thinks of work while practicing yoga, hosts dinner parties, and attends concerts, all with the help of the BlackBerry. The BlackBerry allows her to jot quick notes after yoga class, look up recipes for dinners and book tickets for concerts. Danielle's "At Play" consists of planning for tropical vacations, emailing pitches for kayaking vacations or cocktail cruises to her "girls" while in a boring meeting. It seems unlikely that references would be made to Mike or Tony spacing out during boring meetings, rather, the assumption would be that they are running the meetings.

The profiles on the BlackBerry "Individual" page are geared toward capturing the Prosumer market, imagined as a professionally accomplished group. Despite women being represented in two of the four profiles, and general societal assurances of women's progress in the workplace, many gender stereotypes are reflected in the profiles. While the women are portrayed as professionally successful, in Liz's case her home management abilities are highlighted as her primary skill and Danielle is presented as being more concerned with getting together with her girlfriends than with a work meeting. By examining the assumptions embedded in texts such as the profiles, one can gauge RIM's popular conceptions of work, leisure, family, class and gender roles.

The BlackBerry Pearl Website

Many of the themes found on the Prosumer and Corporate focused BlackBerry website are reiterated on the Consumer-focused Pearl website, albeit with a flashier designed website. The focus is on family and leisure, as well as the style component, as the profiles include several creative professionals who highlight the design features of the device. It is clear from the high-production value of the website that RIM is leveraging its best-in-class reputation (RIM, 2006 Annual Report, p.11) as a business tool to promote the Pearl as an aspirational, luxury brand smartphone. The Pearl is presented as an extension of the user's personality, enabling one to mediate their successful personal and work lives with the technological assistance of a stylish device.

When users select a Pearl icon at any point in the BlackBerry website they are taken to a separate website dedicated to the Pearl. It is a slickly sophisticated Flash website that presents a next-generation feel with a new age/space age motif. A screenshot follows below:

BlackBerry Pearl Homepage Screenshot, May 2007
Image 3.7

The entire site has a dark night sky background and each graphic and piece of text is lit up like a star in the sky. The first visual when entering the site is that of three BlackBerrys hovering just above a shimmering body of water under a night sky, with the devices orbiting on an axis with oscillating rings around them while suspended in place by beams of light shining from above. Soft, trance-like music begins playing as soon as the site is opened, complementing the ethereal presentation. Of the three BlackBerry models, one is featured front and center with two others off to the sides and at a distance. There is a fourth model in the far distance which appears with no feature detail though it has several star-like bodies orbiting around it. The images of the BlackBerry are large enough to show images on the screen; one is of a long stretch of highway under a blue sky, the other of a tropical rainforest and waterfall, and the last of a young couple. These images once again reinforce the previously established themes of mobility, leisure, and family. The slogan for the Pearl appears under the floating BlackBerrys and reads: "BlackBerry Pearl. Small. Smart and Stylish." Under the slogan are four categories: Beauty, Inspiration, Function, and Life. When the user runs the mouse over any of these words they light up on a dark background with a soft white light as though it is a star in the night sky.

Back on the Pearl homepage, selecting the Pearl on the left connects the user to a new webpage under the "Beauty" heading, which presents the Pearl as a stylish device that fits in a fashionable lifestyle. When the new page opens the device is shown floating down into the water, glowing in white light that appears to be emanating from the device. The page offers a 360-degree visual of the device, viewable downloads, and a short video depicting a number of young people in action with the Pearl. The video starts out with a woman dancing in her loft apartment while listening to music on her Pearl, then moves to a 30s-something man in casual dress clothes walking down an urban street with brick and taxis in the background, texting on the Pearl. The next shot is of a woman on a beach wearing a tank top who takes a picture of herself, followed by a man watching a video on a park bench in casually trendy weekend clothes, and the last scene is of a woman talking on the Pearl while in dressy clothes with a white background that's reminiscent of an art gallery. The activities from the video represent all the main capabilities of the Pearl, including an MP3 player, SMS-texting and email, camera, web-browsing, and phone. The audience implied in the video is that of young, well-off urbanites with disposable income to purchase the newest technological toys. This particular image of users also aligns with the description of the creative class that Richard Florida (2003) writes about, and which was extrapolated on in Chapter One of this thesis. The qualifying markers of inclusion in the target market appear to be age, profession, salary, and geography.

However, one cannot entirely dismiss the name "Pearl" and class and gender implications the term carries. Pearls are a semi-precious gem used in jewelry typically worn by women and carry connotation of luxury. Physically, pearls are defined by their round shape, soft sheen, and usually white color, attributes that could be considered "womanly"; especially in contrast to the "drab and boxy design" of previous BlackBerrys (Flynn, 2007). As mentioned earlier in this thesis, the term "strawberry" had been suggested to Lazaridis as a product name by branding firm because of the device's little buttons that looked like seeds on a berry. Lazaridis rejected this name out of hand because it wasn't "macho" enough - he instead opted for the BlackBerry name (McKenna et al., 2006). Based on BlackBerry being chosen over strawberry, one must assume that it is was the "blackness" of berry that was appealing, and the masculinity the darkness represents. It seems possible in this context that gender has been reduced to black and white representations in RIM's branding. While it does not appear that the Pearl is marketed exclusively or predominately to a female audience, the product has been gendered by the inclusion of feminized features; the name, the smaller, "sleeker" design, and the focus on aesthetics that is predominant throughout the promotional material.

Back on the Pearl website, selecting the BlackBerry to the right of the screen brings up the "Function" webpage. There is a rotating image of a Pearl off to the side and back-grounded, and a list of text highlighting each of the phone's functions overlaid. There are two sections, the "full BlackBerry experience" which includes phone and texting, and then the second section headlined "The Pearl Wow factors" which include the camera with flash, BlackBerry maps, voice-activated dialing and more. Clicking on each of these options pops up more detailed information to the left of the screen.

The webpage under the "Inspiration" heading also features a short video. The text under the video window reads: "The idea? Imagine the perfect smartphone. Then make it a reality." The video is a high-production interview with RIM's CEO, Lazaridis, who describes the product features, accompanied by music and 3D graphics of the device. The slogan, the Pearl's tagline, flashes at the end of the video: "Small. Smart and Stylish. So you can live large." The phrase "live large" brings to mind images of 1950s post-war enthusiasm for conspicuous consumption of large cars, large homes, and enjoying the "good life." This may also be an appeal to Pre-WWII conventionality with its gender norms and suburban ideals. The "Small. Smart and Stylish." features are established in the portrayal of the device under the "Function" and "Beauty" sections.

Pearl Profiles

The most notable section of the Pearl website comes when the user selects the small and distant BlackBerry in the upper left hand corner that connects to the "Life" webpage. The "Life" page features an oblong circle of six rotating Pearl BlackBerrys, each featuring a picture of real personalities in the screen. Each time the user rolls the mouse over the 3D circle it rotates the profiled Pearl immediately facing the user, allowing one to scroll through all the stories. When a profile is selected it opens a page that presents a timeline of sorts that shows how they use their Pearl during the day, and also features a two-minute video similar to that of Mike Lazaridis (see Image 3.8). The bold text above the circle of Pearls reads: "Life May Appear Larger", which is yet another reference to physical mobility. The subtext following the prior slogan reads, "Explore the lives of extraordinary people by looking inside their BlackBerry Pearl smartphones." The profiles include the following public figures: Martin Eberhard, the man who invented the world's first production electric sports car in Silicon Valley; Gretchen Bueiller, the 2006 Winter Olympics silver medal winner in snowboarding for Canada; Mariska Hargitay, an actress in the television show Law & Order: SUV; Richard Wright, an owner of a modern art auction house in Chicago; and Douglas Coupland, a Canadian writer and artist particularly known for his book Generation X. In addition to the qualities embedded in the slogans, the combination of the personalities selected to profile represents an entrepreneurial, pseudo-celebrity, creative class. The stories presented purport to be tales of success that anyone could achieve with the right dedication, work ethic, and of course - technology product.

By selecting one of the profiles the user is taken to a new webpage that features what looks like a planetary system. The Pearl floats in the middle of the page, and a picture of the profiled person fills the screen of the floating device. The Pearl itself is surrounded by rings, each with several dots of lights on them (like stars) that have times of day above them. When the user runs the mouse over one of the points of light an activity associated with the time pops up.

BlackBerry Pearl, Eberhard Profile Screenshot, January 2007
Image 3.8

The numerous points of light/times/acts allows RIM to demonstrate the many functions of the Pearl, such as being able to sign in to Instant Messenger portals away from the desk, the web browser function, the camera function, and keeping in touch with the family.

The prescriptive nature of RIM's websites continues in the Pearl profiles with "real-life" examples. The circles surrounding the Pearls have points of light with times and activities attached. The profiles have each celebrity highlight how they employ the Pearl's many functionalities with an example that is unique to their profession. In addition to demonstrating the Pearl's capabilities for work and personal use, the activities reinforce the ideas of competitive edge through technology, entrepreneurship, and leisure and family. Martin Eberhard is able to keep up with the remote manufacturing plant by watching a video of the production process; he can keep in close contact with distant offices by instantly sending photos, and he communicates in a variety of forms with international contacts. It is not merely Eberhard's work that requires mobility, but his entire lifestyle. He is able to look up information and make plans for his work and family life while sitting in a taxi or at an airport. Mobility is heavily highlighted in each profile, both in relation to work and personal/leisure time. Each profile cites at least one specific geographic reference by doing things like naming the city in which the profiler is looking up directions to their friend's house, researching hotels or activities in tropical locations, or naming the city where business partners live. Named cities or areas include vacation destinations or business centers, including: Toronto, Queen Charlotte Islands, Colorado, Silicon Valley, Germany, Hawaii, Chicago, and Tokyo.

In addition to a geographic reference, each profile also features (at least once), a leisure activity and family reference. Eberhard's day includes emailing his wife and purchasing tickets to a sports game online. RIM cites Eberhard as saying the Pearl "keeps me connected…to investors and with family because I'm away from them a lot." Hargitay researches a vacation in Hawaii, and parks in California. The reference to family in her profile is the mention of her checking her email to schedule a play-date for her son. Gretchen Bueiller keeps in touch with her family by sending photos of her performances while she is out competing. Bueiller says in her video clip that "If I didn't have this, I'd just be on the road, alone, by myself…The BlackBerry Pearl definitely helps me do more with my life."

As demonstrated by Bueiller's comment above, the Pearl is presented as a tool that enables the user to accomplish more, not only in their professional life but also, importantly, in his/her personal life. Mariska Hargitay and Richard Wright's profiles both highlight how the Pearl helps them balance being new parents with their demanding careers. Hargitay is an Emmy Award-winning actress who is also running a children's foundation, and Wright is a modern art auction dealer. Hargitay makes the remarkable comment that she finds that the constant connectivity the Pearl affords "de-stresses" her. Hargitay goes on to say, "The fact is that I do have less hours, (yet with the Pearl) I have so much more freedom. I could work 24/7, but actually this helps me, and gives me back so much more time…I don't have to be in front of my computer." Because the Pearl allows her to keep up on several projects at once while out of the office on location or with her child the device lends her peace of mind. The profiles also suggest what may be interpreted as appropriate work hours for certain professions, as the time of the first and last email or activity of the day are listed on each profile. The average use seems to run approximately 10 to 11 hours a day; this is despite what even Lazaridis (light-heartedly) refers to as an "addictive experience" (Case 7. Research in Motion, 2005). Douglas Coupland, "the artist", makes the most astonishing claim of all when he says: "[The Pearl] is a transformer, it's a lens. It allows you to exercise your free will and your sense of time more creatively. And somehow humanize you and make you more humane. I mean that's a lot of thing(s) for a little guy to do." The Pearl is presented as a tool to help simplify one's life. Perhaps because the Pearl is being promoted to RIM's Consumer audience, the emphasis on the Pearl's ability to "add clarity" to one's life may be an effort to dispel popular culture references to the addictive nature of BlackBerry use (Reuters, 2006). Issues of addiction in relation to BlackBerry usage will be discussed in further detail in Chapter Four.

Connecting Productivity to the Personal

RIM's history as a business tool manufacturer has understandably had a deep influence on the promotion of its consumer products. The promotional materials created for Business Users focuses on the increased productivity and profits the BlackBerry can bring to the organization. The message for the Prosumer contains many similarities to the Consumer messaging on the Pearl website, although it maintains more of a career-oriented focus due to the fact it's a BlackBerry, and not a Pearl, promotional website. The Pearl website however, makes more frequent mention of leisure time with friends and family and features profiles that glamorize celebrity and creative-class careers. The combination of personal leisure with professional components on the Pearl website reinforces the overall ethos of convergence between the personal and professional. References to family and leisure on the Pearl website are made under the overarching theme of increased productivity, which is a theme that originated from an economic model and has been, up until recently, typically been applied in business contexts.

As RIM has developed new products and broader markets it has moved from promoting the BlackBerry as a tool for a strictly business audience to incorporating a slightly more mixed Prosumer audience, to now targeting a Consumer market with the Pearl. The result of this migration has been that the idea of increased productivity is presented as a management tool that one should apply not only in professional life but in personal life as well. The focus on productivity has shifted from being solely focused on increased profits, to a concept of increased "Return on Investment" for one's family life while maintaining a time-demanding career. The Pearl is pitched as an enrichment device that enables maximum pleasure and benefit in all areas of life, while projecting a persona of cool style through the sleek design, which is one of the primary features highlighted on the Pearl website. RIM has applied the business-originated productivity prerogative to concepts of family and leisure which have been included in the Consumer messaging to create the context and need for its device in everyday life.

RIM prescribes the use of its products in its messaging and creates aspirational goals for personal and work life, tying the use of their product to success in these areas. This is not an unusual approach. As Mackay and Gillespie (1992) write about this approach, "Marketing is a part of the social shaping of technology not only in that it informs design, but also, as we argue, in that it plays a part in constructing demand" (p.694). RIM employs metaphor by equating success with connectivity. It appears as though the cumulative result of RIM's foray into the promotion of smartphones for the Consumer Market with their history as a business tool is an emphasis of productivity in the personal life and a presentation of a professionalized personal space.


Chapter Three examined the language used in the promotion of the BlackBerry and Pearl, which as I argue, leads to the conclusion that the discourse of the devices is reflective of global shift toward a "new economy" ideology that promotes an ethic of productivity and a sense of borderless fluxes. The result for the promotions of the BlackBerry, which was launched in the late 1990s, is that the connectivity it enables is presented as a means of increasing productivity. As this new ideology - or ethos - has developed, boundaries have become increasingly blurred, which RIM has reflected with the recently released Pearl. The promotion of the Pearl maintains the ethic of connectivity as equating increased productivity and success, and takes it one step further to incorporate the trend to increasingly blurred boundaries between private and public lives. The Pearl is designed and marketed to address the needs of one's private and public lives, which reflects current trends in the collapsing boundaries between these two areas. The next chapter examines how the BlackBerry has been integrated into user's lives through a survey of anecdotal media reports and the scholarship of Ursula Franklin (1990), Sherry Turkle (2004), Manuel Castells (2006), Towers et al. (2005), Catherine Middleton (2007), and Linda Duxbury and Christopher Higgins (2001).