One month prior to the riots I was in a takeaway food shop on Ridley Road market, Dalston, just metres from where a hastily convened mob would later storm the Kingsland shopping centre in an attempt to ransack its shops. For lack of something to read while waiting for my fast food I perused a large pile of glossy brochures for club nights stacked next to the till. I found myself strangely fascinated by one in particular: ‘Ping Me Baby’, it read, is the nightclub for blackberry owners:
ANYBODY WHO IS ANYBODY HAS A BLACKBERRY AND THEY SHOULD BE AWARDED!!!!!! SO ON FRIDAY 22ND JULY PING ME BABY IS BACK WITH THE MASSIVE FREE BLACKBERRY PARTY!!!! EVERYBODY WITH A BLACKBERRY IS 1000% FREE B4 11PM (£5 WITHOUT) .... THIS IS GUARANTEED TO BE A ROADBLOCK AFFAIR & IF YOU'RE CELEBRATING ANYTHING GIVE US A CALL NOW FOR SOME GREAT DEALS. SEE YOU THERE!!!! FREE B4 11PM WITH A BLACKBERRY OR £5 WITHOUT
The reason there is an independent club night dedicated to Blackberry owners (rather than convened as a marketing strategy by the company) is that there is a critical mass of users in central London and this group constitutes a particular economic body. BBM is a free – unlimited – messaging application and in this sense represents a ‘value’ option for mobile communication. It allows users to send one-to-many messages to their network of contacts. This is the equivalent of a fixed price buffet and, in a similar way, a cheap industrially produced meal – of the sort that I was buying at the chicken shop and which the attendees of Ping me Baby! eat too. It implies consumers of lesser means. We know that Blackberry handsets are the smartphone of choice for the majority of British teens – 37% according to an Ofcom study conducted in same month as the unrest?1 During the riots we were informed that the government was in frantic talks with the makers of Blackberry (RIM) about limiting its service in order to restore public order. One wonders if they are now taking the time to access their customer statistics in order to understand which ‘public’ was acting.
Blackberry/BBM is a consumer choice that, as the existence of a club night suggests, is a potential identity – one defined by the unlimited satisfaction of a desire (to communicate by text) available to those with limited financial means and the willingness to create a social network mediated by a branded consumer apparatus. The club night worked in this manner: free entry to a carnival space for Blackberry owners, pay to play for the rest. In fact, the riots operated in a similar fashion. In material terms the closed network of the BBM is what allowed mobs to come together almost instantaneously. Yet, underlying/ subtending the radical social intensity of this phenomenon was the functional logic of consumer-technological society – physically manifest in the kind of phones in people’s pockets and present in their desires. Note, for instance, the apparent Freudian-slip in the advertising text: the author probably means to say that blackberry owners ‘should be rewarded’. Instead, the grammatical structure indicates that blackberrys should be ‘awarded’ to people who already own them! We need not be surprised that the rioters chose to loot electronic goods instead of smashing banks.
After some research it became clear than the club night was named after a song by a contemporary urban/rnb singer. It’s not clear if he was employed by Blackberry to create the song, if he is courting them so they might licence his music, or if he is adopting a viral marketing strategy to piggyback off consumers' identification with their mobile phones. The lack of clarity on this issue is symptomatic of viral marketing – either its practice or its influence. This discovery seems to suggest that the advent of viral marketing has in some way brought about the birth of viral looting. The announcement that it would a ‘roadblock affair’ seems less hyperbolic than the marketers first intended.