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New BlackBerry CEO gets off on right foot by giving old execs the boot

BlackBerry CEO Chen Analysis

Interim BlackBerry CEO John Chen has wasted no time in overhauling the company as both chief marketing officer Frank Boulben and chief operating officer Kristian Tear have now left for other endeavors. While news of executive departures is rarely a good sign for any company, in this case it’s a much-needed showing of accountability, something the one-time Canadian smartphone dynamo has lacked in recent years. Boulben’s departure in particular signals that BlackBerry executives will no longer get away with lighting large piles of money on fire without facing any consequences.

To get a sense of Boulden’s reign of error as BlackBerry’s marketing chief, you have to step back and recall the two major marketing decisions that BlackBerry made over the last year: The hiring of Alicia Keys as a “creative director” and a Super Bowl ad that literally showed you the things that BlackBerry’s new platform was incapable of doing. Both choices were costly and both did little to stop BlackBerry’s slide in the smartphone market.

The Alicia Keys decision had “debacle” written all over it from the start, especially after the pop star showed a decided lack of commitment to the company by sending out a Tweet through her iPhone saying how much she loved BlackBerry 10. As Apple, Samsung and even Microsoft lately have shown, you don’t need an expensive celebrity endorsement to create a killer marketing campaign and tech companies that do choose to go with the celebrity spokesperson route — think HTC and Robert Downey, Jr., for example — aren’t guaranteed a good return on their investment.

While the Alicia Keys ploy falls into the category of “misguided,” the Super Bowl ad disaster falls into the category of “unforgivable.” In case you don’t recall, this is what BlackBerry spent millions of dollars to show tens of millions of viewers during the Super Bowl:

To recap, BlackBerry had a big chance to reintroduce itself as a brand to the world and it used that chance to tell you that BlackBerry 10 won’t let you set yourself on fire or give you teleportation powers.

The company’s subsequent ads for the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone weren’t any better either:

Yes, BlackBerry really produced an ad for its new flagship smartphone in which the device itself got minimal screen time in favor of… lots of people walking through different places. This may not be as bad of an ad as Microsoft’s original breakdancing, beat-boxing Surface Pro ads but it’s pretty close.

Although BlackBerry’s struggles extend well beyond the realm of marketing, it’s pretty clear that the company’s marketing department was doing it no favors in its attempted comeback in the smartphone wars. From this perspective, the company’s executive overhaul is an encouraging sign that it has lost its patience for self-inflicted errors.

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.