How Not to Build Buzz For Your New BlackBerry, RIM

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There was frightening news from Indonesia ten days ago, when a BlackBerry launch event turned into first a riot, and then a dangerous stampede. The incident hospitalized three and caused 90 others to lose consciousness. Now the local RIM chief is a criminal suspect. All the details are in The Long View...

When the local Indonesian Research In Motion (RIM) subsidiary wanted to generate buzz around its new BlackBerry Bold 9790 smartphone, the company decided to offer it at half-price to the first 1,000 people to show up at its Pacific Place Mall store in the capital, Jakarta.

However, the promotion was quickly over-subscribed with would-be customers, as Brid-Aine Parnell reports:

Around 3,000 people showed up to the event and were initially told that they would need to get a red bracelet from the organisers in order to buy a phone, but RIM staff eventually decided to abandon that plan. ... [P]eople in the crowd were outraged when they saw people getting the new smartphone without a bracelet.

Without quick and careful handling, this was not going to end well. It's unclear why RIM decided to alter the plan, but changing the rules mid-event can only have invited a riot.

Local reporter Andreas D. Arditya adds this view of proceedings:

A scuffle broke out when customers, some of whom had been queuing from the day before, began to complain on hearing rumors that the smartphone had sold out. At least 90 people fainted and a number of others were hospitalized with broken bones.

Let's face it, emotions were guaranteed to have been running high with such a generous promotion on a highly-anticipated product (although RIM products may not seem like they're all that in your part of the world, the company is still an important supplier in Indonesia).

As Olivia Rondonuwu reports from Jakarta, RIM's in-country manager has been charged with criminal negligence, along with three other suspects:

The police said Andrew Cobham was responsible for the promotional event...which attracted a crowd of about 5,000 people. Police halted the sale after dozens passed out in the crush.
The maximum penalty for negligence is nine months in jail.

RIM issued this statement:

We sincerely regret that many loyal customers experienced frustration and were upset, and that some individuals suffered injuries. ... We are deeply committed to Indonesia and greatly value the passionate support Indonesians have shown. ... We are actively cooperating with the authorities.

But, as local PR consultant Ong Hock Chuan points out, RIM appears to have badly fumbled the followup, by delaying its response, misunderstanding the local cultural expectations of an apology, and seemingly trying to divert attention from its responsibility:

If RIM is very lucky things will die down. If they are not then they may be...heading for more trouble as others react against the mistakes they are making.

What would you do? Leave a comment below...

Richi Jennings, blogger at large
Richi Jennings, blogger at large
Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. As well as The Long View, he's also the creator and main author of Computerworld's IT Blogwatch -- for which he has won American Society of Business Publication Editors and Jesse H. Neal awards on behalf of IDG Enterprise. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, you can follow him as @richi on Twitter, pretend to be richij's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email: You can also read Richi's full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

This story, "How Not to Build Buzz For Your New BlackBerry, RIM" was originally published by Computerworld.

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