Why Is Porsche Still Putting Its Name on BlackBerrys?


The wait is finally over. The new BlackBerry (BBRY) is here. Of course you want one—what other smartphone would you buy? The only question is if you can afford it: The latest BlackBerry was developed in concert with Porsche (PAH3:GR) and costs $2,127.

Spoiler alert: The device looks more like a BlackBerry than a Porsche. Consider it one of the strangest—and most oddly timed—product releases of the year.

It’s not odd for a car company to slap its name on something that doesn’t have four wheels. The most powerful auto brands all have robust licensing units. Ferrari, for example, has plenty of options for those who aspire to the playboy lifestyle but can’t afford the actual vehicle. There are Ferrari driving gloves ($210), surfboards ($1,700), and carbon-fiber chess sets ($2,050).

Porsche, meanwhile, is to cars what Apple (AAPL) is to tech gadgets, and so the automaker has taken the licensing game a step further. In addition to the usual name-leasing deals, its Porsche Design unit in Austria actually engineers things that don’t run on wheels, including some really slick train cars and ski lifts.

From a marketing perspective, the trick in these so-called co-branding exercises is making sure the whole is greater than the sum of the parts so that the association pays off for both companies. That ski lift better be really good if it says “Porsche” on it.

Aston Martin has this down to a science, forging limited-release products and car tie-ins with Jaeger-LeCoultre (CFR:SJ) watches, John Lobb shoes, and Bang & Olufsen (BO:DC) speakers. Jaguar (TTM) also showed how it’s done last month. It announced plans to make six ultralight replicas of its storied 1963 E-type sports car to be sold in unison with a tiny batch of Bremont watches. The timepiece, designed to echo the aesthetic of Jaguar’s instruments, complements and elevates the car; and vice versa.

All of which makes Porsche’s BlackBerry tie-up so puzzling. The car company has never looked sharper. Its new small SUV, the Macan, is a big hit, and its new hybrid supercar is being hailed as the future of driving (at least that’s what the guys on Top Gear said). Meanwhile, the Porsche 911 is still considered the sports car against which all others are measured.

But nothing is measured against BlackBerry these days. The company’s smartphone market share is expected to drop below 1 percent this year. The brand doesn’t have enough luster to make its own products shine, let alone others.

So why is there another Porsche BlackBerry? The answer is quite simple: tradition and money, two things the German carmaker has always been keen on. Porsche has been slapping its name on BlackBerry handsets for 10 years now. The further the brand falls, the more it’s probably willing to pay for the affiliation. And if nobody buys them, no one will notice.


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