Alec Saunders’ Skype status message reads: “Life is grand!” At the end of our 20-minute conversation, he tells me he’s so excited about the work he’s doing that he has to pinch himself every morning because it seems too good to be true. His team, he enthuses, is “absolutely pumped” about the company’s prospects.
That name ring a bell? Here’s a hint: Saunders is vice president for developer relations for RIM, makers of BlackBerry.
Still a bit fuzzy? Maybe you saw a certain music video that Saunders starred in recently. In the video, shown at the BlackBerry Jam Americas conference last week, Saunders and two fellow RIM veeps indulge in some paunchy middle-age rocking out to a parody of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You”. The faux band, called “RIM Speedwagon,” changed the words of the original to communicate their love to developers, dropping such rousing declarations as: “And I meant every word I said when I said that our devs are at the heart of our mobile endeavors.” (Never let anyone tell you that “mobile endeavors” isn’t a balls-to-wall, hair-swinging lyric line.)
The video, as The Verge reported, “straight-up killed” at the conference. But predictably, it presented a glowing red target for the snark armies of the Internet. Blogs and commenters mocked RIM for the intensely cheesy parody, which at one point features Saunders pulling a hard-core thumbs-up to the words “QWERTY editions.” One representative headline read: “RIM serenades fleeing developers with LOLWTF video.”
If the public mockery broke Saunders’ spirit, though, he’s doing a hell of a job of hiding it. “I spent a lot of time thinking about it and my conclusion was that the developer audience that we did it for were delighted with it,” he says. “If you had been in the room, you would have heard the cheers and the hollers of the people that were there.” The video has been viewed on YouTube more than 350,000 times, he notes, and “likes” outnumber the “dislikes” by one third.
“I’m pretty pleased. It showed three RIM guys having some fun during a period of time when a lot of people are saying that the company should be serious and should be focused on some very tough business problems. And we are, we absolutely are. We also want that developer community that we’re working with to know that we’re human and want to have some fun doing it.”
Would he do it again? That all depends on whether or not he can convince his colleagues to do it, he says. “Personally, I would, yeah.”
Despite reports to the contrary, it’s not him singing the song. That was the work of a session musician in Atlanta commissioned for the job. (And let’s be frank – musically speaking, it might be considered an improvement on the original.) But Saunders did lip-synch the shit out of it, and his bandmates learned the appropriate licks and chords so they would look like the real deal in the end product.
Ultimately, the video might have turned out to be a win for RIM. If nothing else, it has helped the company get attention and remind developers that it’s not dead yet. Saunders, for one, has all the expected bullish glow about RIM that a marketing man would have.
“We are in the middle of building an ecosystem from the ground up,” he says, referring to the long-awaited BlackBerry 10 operating system, on which RIM’s prospects ultimately rest. He points to the company’s $2.3 billion in the bank and its growing customer base as reasons for optimism in the face of an onslaught from iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8. Says Saunders: “I don’t think anything that’s not hard to do is worth doing.”
In the meantime, RIM’s stock is sitting near a nine-year low. It’ll need a lot more than a music video to pull it out of that predicament.
But Saunders at least can take solace from the fact that RIM Speedwagon is keeping the dream alive. On the YouTube video for the original version of “Keep On Loving You,” the top comment comes from user Ron Abagnale. “Thumbs up if the BlackBerry parody brought you here,” it says. At the time of publication, 49 people had upvoted the comment.