Five Questions With Dubai Ad Exec About UAE's BlackBerry Ban

Ikon's Mahesh Sundaresan Talks About Smartphone's Popularity and Chance for Other Brands

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The United Arab Emirates has announced plans to ban one of the world's most popular smartphones, Research in Motion's BlackBerry, after Oct. 10 for security reasons, and other, bigger countries may follow, threatening BlackBerry's 19% share of the global smartphone market. Advertising Age caught up with Mahesh Sundaresan, CEO of Ikon Advertising & Marketing/ICOM in Dubai, via email about what will happen and the impact on Blackberry users, the smartphone business and marketing efforts.

Mahesh Sundaresan
Mahesh Sundaresan
Ad Age: What's going to happen?

Mr. Sundaresan: Starting Oct. 11, 2010, BlackBerry services (instant messaging, browsing and e-mails) will be suspended in UAE. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has followed the UAE ban and they have announced a ban on BlackBerry services by August 2010. The other Gulf States are studying the issue. Today there is an article in a leading daily here in Dubai talking about Indonesia considering a ban. As we all know, India and China have also raised concerns.

Ad Age: How popular is the BlackBerry there?

Mr. Sundaresan: In the UAE, BlackBerrys are very popular. It has in fact become a lifestyle product. It is not just the senior business executives who own a BlackBerry. It is popular with students, women, young executives and people from all walks of life. In the UAE, BlackBerry was growing at a tremendous rate and had the lion's share of the smartphone market until the ban was announced.

Ad Age: What impact will the ban have?

Mr. Sundaresan: It will certainly have an impact. BlackBerry had become an integral part of UAE lifestyle. Since the announcement, sales have dropped dramatically. Retailers are now fearing a stock pileup and are looking at possibilities of shipping stock out to other countries in the Middle East and Africa. The popularity of BlackBerry can be gauged from the fact that both the telecom operators in the UAE have immediately announced alternative packages to BlackBerry owners in the country so that the impact of service disruption is minimal on people and businesses.

On the other hand, the ban has opened up huge opportunities for other smartphone brands to fill the gap. iPhone, Motorola, LG, Samsung and Nokia have all gone into overdrive and are planning strategies to grab share from the void that will be left by Blackberry.

Ad Age: How will a ban affect advertising and marketing?

Mr. Sundaresan: BlackBerry is a very commonly used tool with the UAE business community and many people conduct their business over a BlackBerry. While the ban will have an impact with regards to business in general, I do not see any significant impact on the advertising/marketing communications business. The consumers will continue to use smartphones. It will just be a replacement of one by the other. From an advertising industry point of view, it is also an opportunity for other competitive smartphone brands to address current consumer concerns through effective ad campaigns.

Ad Age: Are you concerned?

Mr. Sundaresan: No. We are not really concerned. In the UAE the options are plenty, and both the telecom operators are dynamic and have already announced various packages to replace BlackBerry services. However, I must admit I love my BlackBerry.

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