Douglas Coupland and the Blackberry Pearl

Coupland Lots of celebrities sell goods today.  Peyton Manning is a pitchman for Mastercard. Tiger Woods sells Buicks.  Gwyneth Paltrow is fast becoming an endorsement machine. 

Strictly speaking, there is nothing odd about the fact that Douglas Coupland is now a celebrity spokesman for Blackberry Pearl.  Wait a second.  Douglas Coupland is  now a  spokesman for Blackberry Pearl?   

Coupland’s Generation X was to fiction what Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit was to music what Richard Linklater’s Slacker was to film.  All appeared in 1991 and all helped shape the cultural moment.  As it turned out, this moment was deeply ambivalent about materialism and downright hostile to marketing.

I’m not complaining.  If Coupland can persuade Blackberry to hire him, well and good.  I have no doubt that he will use the proceeds to fund the continued productivity of one Douglas Coupland.

But it is necessary to see that Blackberry hires Coupland precisely to lend his cultural significance to the brand, that it might become more glorious, better defined, and more profitable.  Coupland brings several things.  He is a Renaissance man of a kind, comfortable in several media.  He has a certain international reach.  He is restless and experimental in his creative undertakings.  But, most of all, and the very point of the hire, surely, is that Coupland lends to Blackberry some of his standing as a man who reads culture with perspicuity and power, and the fact that he read the  early 1990s so well he helped to give it shape and form.

When Coupland spends his cultural capital on behalf of Blackberry, he extinguishes some of it.  This is true for every celebrity endorser.  For Coupland, this may well be a fair trade.  He will use his endorsement fee to sustain his creative career, and who knows what new accomplishments await him?   A single "hit" would restore the capital this campaign will cost him. 

But back to the anti-materialism, anti-marketing of the early 1990s.  When Coupland endorses a consumer good, he contradicts his cultural significance.  In the process, he extinguishes the part of the credibility that made him a suitable celebrity endorser.  This damage to Coupland’s celebrity inflicts harm on the Blackberry brand.   The "meaning mechanics" of this marketing campaign are ill advised. 

For more on the Coupland connection to Blackberry, visit the Blackberry website here, click on "life." 


16 thoughts on “Douglas Coupland and the Blackberry Pearl

  1. Justin Damer

    In Coupland’s defense, by growing a beard, he has managed to subvert the advert, to a degree. That, in my book, absolves him of any loss of “cultural capital”. It’s very much in keeping with his work. Blackberry wanted ‘The Image of Douglas Coupland’ in their ad. He said “ok”. Then he completely changed ‘The Image of Douglas Coupland’ such that it is almost unrecognizable in the ad. This is how you sell out, without selling “your self” out.

  2. jens

    quite right, grant.
    my initial reaction was (as parallel thoughts): coupland – another aging hero … the peter gabriel of literature … there is a certain kind of man, when they loose their interest in sex they go to bed with the advertising industry… what the hell: blackberry is a sad product anyway.

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  4. Steve Portigal

    Oh, right, it’s impossible to imagine Coupland being connected to any pop-culture defining brands!??!!! Look at the body of work. This is a guy who read an Itchy and Scratchy transcript in a public reading in San Jose. Who wrote a book about Microsoft. Another book that references iPod in the title. Wrote another that references the Grateful Dead in the title. He curated (my verb, since they are more collections than literary works) two books about the product icons that define a certain era in Canadian life.

    I can’t imagine anyone who fits better.

    And even if you don’t agree with the amazing fit I propose, we should all have been over this a long time ago, perhaps when Zeppelin sold their songs to a car company (or any other sell-out moment you like).

  5. Grant

    Steve, Itchy and Scratchy are not mainstream. Ditto, the Grateful Dead. The book about Microsoft was a condemnation of same. To say that Coupland references popular culture does not qualify him to participate as a celebrity endorser. Indeed, the way he references popular culture should disqualify him. Zeppelin! Since when did they take an anti-commercial stand. Thanks, Grant

  6. Candy Minx

    Douglas Coupland doing commercials is like Nirvana doing an Unplugged and William Burroughs doing a Nike ad. Oh right. I forgot the apocalypse happened already.
    Do you think I will ever beat Guy Kawasaki to the Technorati top ten?

  7. Steve Portigal

    It’s refreshing to see people view things even more black and white than I think I do.

    Devo is playing casinos. Do you weep? Or do you laugh because you enjoy the irony? Or post-irony? Or post-modernism?

    Your mileage may vary. Well, clearly it does.

    Itchy and Scratchy are ABSOLUTELY mainstream to Coupland’s audience. Knowing, sly, sub-referencing, alienated, bemused.

    The fact that I didn’t have to asy “the animated TV cartoon characters who fight and bite (and fight and bite) on Fox’s The Simpsons” proves they are mainstream. Mainstream enough for what I’m getting at.

    I will say that I wouldn’t read Coupland’s last book because he put himself in as a character, and that’s usually the cue for “out of ideas” (cf: Heinlein, Steven King….) but it does fit this discussion of pop culture icons and brands (including unfortunately himself) as content for Coupland’s universe, observation, comedy, commentary.

  8. Hannah

    Everyone has their price, I suppose. But as a GenXer, it disappoints me, though it’s hardly surprising. I’m expecting to see Ralph Nader pitching Shell Oil or McDonald’s any day now.

  9. tinsley

    Just saw the Douglas blackberry disappointment. My heart just barfed. Its the same betrayal as Alan Cross doing those Apple ads. For me it works the opposite of the company’s goal. The spokesperson and the product both go down in my ratings. I’m wondering if, like the vodka ad, he has gone and done this to benefit a charity….

  10. Jessa

    “This Fall I did a promotion for the Blackberry Pearl. Some people think this was weird but I don’t. My fee was a terrific way to raise money for the Contemporary Art Gallery in downtown Vancouver. In a similar vein I did an ad for Absolut quite a few years back. People can forget that as a writer your ways of fundraising for charity are extremely limited. Painters can donate paintings to auctions but writers? Donating books is one option, but it won’t raise much. To raise a meaningful sum I think you really have to put yourself out there.” Douglas Coupland

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  12. Cheryl C

    Oh, this discussion must have happened *before* I saw Chris Cornell in a Louis Vuitton ad?! If Coupland says the Blackberry Pearl is good, then I believe he got paid. And Coupland is the voice of my generation and a damned funny guy. He deserves to get mucho-paid.

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