BlackBerry’s Passport for an iPhone trade-in deal a marketing ploy?

BlackBerry made international headlines recently when it offered Apple users up to a whopping $600 to trade in their iPhone for a new Blackberry Passport. But a technology analyst suspects the offer was more of a marketing tactic than a serious attempt woo fans.

Tech expert says BlackBerry’s aim is to create buzz, not lure legions of iPhone users

BlackBerry CEO John Chen shows off the new Passport phone last June. The company won't say how many have traded their iPhones for BlackBerry phones. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

BlackBerry made international headlines recently when it offered Apple users up to a whopping $600 to trade in their iPhone for a new BlackBerry Passport device. But one month into the program, you may have a tough time finding someone who has taken the plunge.

A technology analyst suspects BlackBerry never actually expected its trade-in offer would lure legions of iPhone fans. Instead, Carmi Levy believes the campaign is simply a marketing ploy “designed to raise eyebrows and get people talking about the brand."

BlackBerry’s so-called "Trade-Up Program" began on Dec. 1 and expires on Feb. 13 of this year. It’s open to consumers in both Canada and the U.S. who are ready to give up a functional iPhone 4S or better for a Passport. In return, they will get up to $400 depending on the quality of the iPhone plus a $200 top-up ($150 in the U.S.).

BlackBerry mum on numbers

BlackBerry won’t divulge to CBC News how many people have so far relinquished their iPhone for a Passport. But the company said in statement that “we are pleased with the response.”

It added the campaign “was designed to encourage Apple iPhone users to transition to BlackBerry and discover a brand new smartphone.”

That’s a very tough challenge. Data provided by Morgan Stanley Research last July showed that iPhone users are the most loyal, with 90 per cent of them sticking with Apple when upgrading phones. Meanwhile, according to International Data Corp., BlackBerry owned less than one per cent of the global smartphone market share in the second quarter of 2014.

Some analysts labelled BlackBerry’s trade-up deal a last-ditch effort to sell phones. But Levy says it was a calculated plan with an ulterior motive.

The tech expert does not have inside knowledge of the company but believes “they knew full well that millions of iPhone users would not be beating down doors to exchange their devices for new Passports. But they proceeded anyway because the end game was not to convert people."

"The end game was to get [people] talking about BlackBerry at a level they hadn't been talking about BlackBerry up until now," he adds about a company that continues to suffer from diminished glory and declining phone sales.

The end game was to get [people] talking about BlackBerry- Carmi Levy, technology analyst

How many made the trade?

To emphasize his point, Levy, who also writes for the industry website,, says he can’t find anyone who swapped an iPhone for a Passport, despite casting his net wide.

CBC News also launched a search and managed to find an online discussion forum about the topic on where a Jeffm63 wrote that he was considering the deal. He asked the forum on Dec. 25, “Has anyone taken advantage of this [BlackBerry Passport Trade-up] promo?” No one replied yes.

So did Jeffm63 take the plunge? CBC News tracked him down. Turns out Jeff McRae from Sarnia, Ont., has always been a devout BlackBerry fan and the iPhone he was hoping to trade in previously belonged to his sister.

In the end, McRae didn’t swap his sister’s old iPhone because he discovered it was probably too trashed to meet the requirements. But he still bought the Passport without the rebate "because I was already sold on the device and I was already on the [BlackBerry] platform."

Graeme Close is an ex-BlackBerry user who switched to the iPhone 4.5 years ago. But he says he’s happy with Apple and never contemplated trading his phone for a Passport: "Never has it crossed my mind to switch or never have I talked to anybody who has switched," he says.

International attention

Regardless of whether or not the company has been flooded with iPhone to Passport converts, undoubtedly, the trade-up campaign has helped boost the BlackBerry brand. Even media in regions where the deal isn’t offered — like India and the U.K. — reported the story.

Levy says BlackBerry is shifting toward becoming a software and services company. But the public connects better with smartphone advertising because we use and understand the device. So, he says, "marketing activities like [the trade-up program] are key parts of a larger strategy designed to send the message that the company remains viable."

Or, as BlackBerry fan McRae says, "any news is good news."

Contact Sophia Harris on Twitter @sophiaharriscbc.

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact:


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