Wednesday, June 8, 2011

BlackBerry and Obama in China

After seeing some of the variety of mobile phones I've shared (see here and here) a reader and self-admitted BlackBerry fan, Pete, asked about BlackBerry's presence in China.

Recently, I saw BlackBerry's for sale at a large mobile phone store in Chengdu, Sichuan.

BlackBerry mobile phones for sale in Chengdu

Although it was just one small display amongst many others, it caught my eye since I hadn't seen BlackBerry's for sale in other cities I've recently featured, including Zhaotong and Zigong.  I can't provide any statistics but it's been very uncommon for me to see anyone using a BlackBerry (or other higher end phones, such as iPhone) in similar cities -- whether in my formal research (which I should note has focused on Chinese youth) or what I've seen being used in public.

The appearance of some Blackberry's in Chengdu is likely due to it being a relatively prosperous city, especially for Southwest China.

What most caught my attention, though, was how the phones were being promoted.  On the left side was this set of photos:

You may recognize a couple of the photos, including Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  Neither of them are too surprising given the NBA's popularity in China.  Kobe certainly has many ardent fans here and has been part of a number of marketing campaigns, including those for Nike.  That BlackBerry is using sports figures in its promotions may suggest something about how they are trying to position their products.

Regardless, on the right side were a few photos that you may find more intriguing.

Yes, that is Barack Obama giving a speech in one photo and apparently using a BlackBerry in another.  The views many Chinese have of Obama are likely more complex than those they may have of Kobe.  What is most important to note, though, is that it is very conceivable that the use of Obama's image would benefit BlackBerry's aims in China.

This isn't the first time for Obama (or a lookalike) to make an appearance in ads in China.

For example, I saw this ad in a shopping center in Shijiazhuang, Hebei.  Maybe it's not intended to be Obama but... well, you decide.

Look like Obama to you?

There was also an advertisement by KFC that involved Obama.  Although, apparently it only played in Hong Kong -- a market distinct in many ways from Mainland China.

For more about Obama in Chinese advertisements, including one not for BlackBerry, but BlockBerry, see here.

Now, let's do a thought experiment.

Would it be effective for BlackBerry's US sales to promote its products using this man?

Hu Jintao (source)

Would most Americans even recognize this photo as Hu Jintao and/or know that he is China's current leader?

If they did, would knowing he used a BlackBerry in any way impact their likelihood of buying a BlackBerry?  For the positive?

Even if Hu Jintao regularly used a BlackBerry I don't think his image will be appearing in any marketing campaigns in the US.  If BlackBerry decided otherwise, they may face the same fate as a failed PR campaign by China in the US half a year ago (see here).  Part of the problem was that the ads highlighted many "famous" Chinese who were complete unknowns in the US.

The familiarity Chinese have with a number of US figures and how they view such people is not a trivial issue and a sign of the United States' soft power in China.  The very different state of China's soft power in the US is very striking.  In a later post, I will discuss more about how this soft power may impact Chinese in the future, particularly in which online services they use.

1 comment:

  1. Not often that a blog post is dedicated to me. I'm moving up in the world!

    Use of celebrities in unofficial BlackBerry promotion seems to be a world-wide phenomenon.

    Although it is unaffiliated with Research In Motion (the company that makes the BlackBerry), the indispensable website publishes a weekly feature with photos of celebrities and their BBs. The most recent one, a strong entry, is here:

    And yes, Barack Obama is a prominent BB user, featured on Crackberry's celebrity roundup here:

    And caught in an unfortunate moment here:

    Your comments on the advertising value of Hu vs. Barack: quite clever! I wouldn't have thought of that.

    As far as Chinese celebrities that Americans would know, this probably isn't the same guy:!/jchan89/status/66866830421147648