Research for Global Development

BlackBerry Still Cool, Powerful in Nigeria


Waiting in Lagos’ crowded domestic airport lounge on route to Abuja, the characteristic ping of the BlackBerry alert sounded out every few minutes with people reaching out into their pockets to check their phones. A smartly dressed Nigerian lady seated beside me was engrossed in a text conversation on her BlackBerry as she smiled silently to herself. As I finally took my seat on the flight, I was joined by a portly Nigerian man with a large briefcase tucked beneath this seat engaging in a loud and animated conversation on one of the phones tucked between his ear and shoulder, whilst he texted on his second phone effortlessly, both BlackBerry devices.  I also noted that the airline crew didn’t bother to request the passengers to turn off their phones before departure, a sign that for many Nigerians, their phones are considered to be an extension of themselves that cannot be disengaged.

As a Blackberry user myself, I was happy to see so many fellow “crackberrys” in Nigeria, but in recent times, I had been feeling the impulse to upgrade my phone and join the PA (Post Apple) era.  When I bought my first BlackBerry, a Bold 9900, I felt I’d joined an exclusive club of jet setting executives, ready to take over the world with every BBM. I winced in pain every time I dropped it, mortified that my precious berry baby may have been damaged.  Three years later, my love affair is waning and I’m tempted to drop it under a bus just so that I can have a legitimate excuse to relegate it to a spare tire and buy that much desired iPhone and start instagraming, just like those rich kids on here.

A recent New York Times article wrote about the shame and embarrassment of owning the old-school BlackBerry in today’s iPhone and android dominated smartphone world, with users describing it as “a magnet for mockery and derision.”  I related whole heartedly….. Until I realized, at least in Nigeria, that my darn BlackBerry was still pretty cool.

Whilst Research in Motion (RIM), the makers of the BlackBerry devices, has been struggling to make sales ground in developed markets, they appear to be covering at least some of it in the developing world.  Nigeria is one of those key markets and RIM estimates that out of Nigerians four million smartphone users, about half are BlackBerry users.  Nigeria has about 88 million active mobile phone subscriptions (more than 50% of population) and it is projected that phone subscription may surpass 128 million by 2014. These numbers present a huge opportunity for the growth in the smartphone industry and RIM has been quick to recognize this and opened up their own retail stores in Nigeria this September to drive further demand for their phones.

A wide range of BlackBerry services are being offered by mobile operators at prices, starting at about 1,200 Naira, ($7.60 USD) a month and going up to 3,000 Naira per month ($19.00 USD) depending on the service package. But it’s not really a service that the Nigerian masses can afford, given that the country has almost 100 million people living on less than a $1 a day.

There is certainly a prestige factor related to the ownership of a BlackBerry phone which helps owners build the persona of being more successful than other phone owners. This New York Times article describes the BlackBerry as “a totem as powerful as any figurine” for Nigeria’s upper class. This type of strategic, undercover marketing, built on perceptions and attitudes works particularly well in a Nigerian culture that revolves around a bright entrepreneurial spirit and sense of drive. RIM in Nigeria has also been promoting the phones with a series of video interviews with prominent and successful Nigerian businessmen and women, as well as entertainers, who talk about their experiences with their BlackBerry and how ownership has benefitted them.

The aura of power and wealth that owning a BlackBerry phone authenticates in Nigeria is now being embodied strongly in another part of Nigerian culture, its film industry. “Nollywood” is the world’s third-largest filmmaking industry by revenue and produces more than 1,000 titles every year.  Main characters of the films often portray wealthy businessmen and women clutching their BlackBerry devices, and the complexities of family and love affairs are seen played out through phone. The 2011 popular film “BlackBerry Babes”, now the first of a series of films, revolves around the lives of a group of Nigerian girls, whose social lives are highly dependent on staying connected via their BlackBerry phones. In one part of the film, a character breaks up with her boyfriend because he is unable to buy her a BlackBerry and in another, a group of BlackBerry babes derides a non-BlackBerry user for owning a “toy gun.”

Such films are adding to the Blackberry’s “cool” factor in the country where image is often seen as the key to a success and is helping grow the phone’s appeal in a rapidly developing middle class.

The BlackBerry messenger service, which is a free messaging tool that allows follow users to create group chats is also highly popular with young people wanting stay connected and is especially popular amongst users with friends and family abroad who are part of Nigeria’s large diaspora community. It also helps to have a BlackBerry to stay socially connected when you’re stuck in one of Nigeria’s notorious traffic jams or power-failure plagued days. So I think I’ll be keeping my grip on that Blackberry for just a while longer.

InterMedia

BlackBerry Still Cool, Powerful in Nigeria


Waiting in Lagos’ crowded domestic airport lounge on route to Abuja, the characteristic ping of the BlackBerry alert sounded out every few minutes with people reaching out into their pockets to check their phones. A smartly dressed Nigerian lady seated beside me was engrossed in a text conversation on her BlackBerry as she smiled silently to herself. As I finally took my seat on the flight, I was joined by a portly Nigerian man with a large briefcase tucked beneath this seat engaging in a loud and animated conversation on one of the phones tucked between his ear and shoulder, whilst he texted on his second phone effortlessly, both BlackBerry devices.  I also noted that the airline crew didn’t bother to request the passengers to turn off their phones before departure, a sign that for many Nigerians, their phones are considered to be an extension of themselves that cannot be disengaged.

As a Blackberry user myself, I was happy to see so many fellow “crackberrys” in Nigeria, but in recent times, I had been feeling the impulse to upgrade my phone and join the PA (Post Apple) era.  When I bought my first BlackBerry, a Bold 9900, I felt I’d joined an exclusive club of jet setting executives, ready to take over the world with every BBM. I winced in pain every time I dropped it, mortified that my precious berry baby may have been damaged.  Three years later, my love affair is waning and I’m tempted to drop it under a bus just so that I can have a legitimate excuse to relegate it to a spare tire and buy that much desired iPhone and start instagraming, just like those rich kids on here.

A recent New York Times article wrote about the shame and embarrassment of owning the old-school BlackBerry in today’s iPhone and android dominated smartphone world, with users describing it as “a magnet for mockery and derision.”  I related whole heartedly….. Until I realized, at least in Nigeria, that my darn BlackBerry was still pretty cool.

Whilst Research in Motion (RIM), the makers of the BlackBerry devices, has been struggling to make sales ground in developed markets, they appear to be covering at least some of it in the developing world.  Nigeria is one of those key markets and RIM estimates that out of Nigerians four million smartphone users, about half are BlackBerry users.  Nigeria has about 88 million active mobile phone subscriptions (more than 50% of population) and it is projected that phone subscription may surpass 128 million by 2014. These numbers present a huge opportunity for the growth in the smartphone industry and RIM has been quick to recognize this and opened up their own retail stores in Nigeria this September to drive further demand for their phones.

A wide range of BlackBerry services are being offered by mobile operators at prices, starting at about 1,200 Naira, ($7.60 USD) a month and going up to 3,000 Naira per month ($19.00 USD) depending on the service package. But it’s not really a service that the Nigerian masses can afford, given that the country has almost 100 million people living on less than a $1 a day.

There is certainly a prestige factor related to the ownership of a BlackBerry phone which helps owners build the persona of being more successful than other phone owners. This New York Times article describes the BlackBerry as “a totem as powerful as any figurine” for Nigeria’s upper class. This type of strategic, undercover marketing, built on perceptions and attitudes works particularly well in a Nigerian culture that revolves around a bright entrepreneurial spirit and sense of drive. RIM in Nigeria has also been promoting the phones with a series of video interviews with prominent and successful Nigerian businessmen and women, as well as entertainers, who talk about their experiences with their BlackBerry and how ownership has benefitted them.

The aura of power and wealth that owning a BlackBerry phone authenticates in Nigeria is now being embodied strongly in another part of Nigerian culture, its film industry. “Nollywood” is the world’s third-largest filmmaking industry by revenue and produces more than 1,000 titles every year.  Main characters of the films often portray wealthy businessmen and women clutching their BlackBerry devices, and the complexities of family and love affairs are seen played out through phone. The 2011 popular film “BlackBerry Babes”, now the first of a series of films, revolves around the lives of a group of Nigerian girls, whose social lives are highly dependent on staying connected via their BlackBerry phones. In one part of the film, a character breaks up with her boyfriend because he is unable to buy her a BlackBerry and in another, a group of BlackBerry babes derides a non-BlackBerry user for owning a “toy gun.”

Such films are adding to the Blackberry’s “cool” factor in the country where image is often seen as the key to a success and is helping grow the phone’s appeal in a rapidly developing middle class.

The BlackBerry messenger service, which is a free messaging tool that allows follow users to create group chats is also highly popular with young people wanting stay connected and is especially popular amongst users with friends and family abroad who are part of Nigeria’s large diaspora community. It also helps to have a BlackBerry to stay socially connected when you’re stuck in one of Nigeria’s notorious traffic jams or power-failure plagued days. So I think I’ll be keeping my grip on that Blackberry for just a while longer.

Marketing Materials

Contact Us:

InterMedia Headquarters

1825 K Street, NW
Suite 650
Washington, D.C. 20006
+1.202.434.9310
FAX: +1 202 434 9560
Contact | View Map

InterMedia Africa

UN Avenue, Gigiri Nairobi
Box 10224
City Square 00200
Nairobi, Kenya
+254.720.109183
Contact | View Map