01/31/2012 11:41 EST | Updated 04/01/2012 05:12 EDT

RIM on the defensive after superhero characters misinterpreted as ad campaign

WATERLOO, Ont. - Four cartoon superheroes in a one-off information graphic had BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (TSX:RIM) on the defensive Tuesday, as some critics labelled RIM's effort to describe its users "lame" and "embarrassing."

The Waterloo, Ont.-based company was downplaying the lighthearted take on its loyal smartphone users after the graphic — associated with RIM's "Be Bold" campaign — took an ugly turn on social media as some criticized it for being juvenile.

"This infographic is just intended to be a bit of fun," the company said on its Inside BlackBerry blog on Tuesday.

However, by that point some technology blogs and BlackBerry users had already misinterpreted the superheroes as part of a new advertising campaign.

RIM unveiled the characters in a graphic that broke down its user base into four market segments — naming each after a superhero.

The spunky Gogo Girl was used to describe the users who consider themselves achievers.

"Saving the day with a brilliant strategy, a smile and a spatula is nothing new for Gogo Girl," the graphic said.

The more daring Max Stone characterized the adventurous types.

"He's tough, proud and a little wild," it said.

Justin Steele is intended to represent the "advocate," ready to stick up for his friends and Trudy Foreal the "authentic" who is not afraid to call it as she sees it.

The cartoons led to a decidedly negative response on social media websites. One Twitter user named GoPic encouraged RIM to consider firing its marketing department, while others said the characters looked like they were designed to market to children.

Even some children appeared unimpressed, according to the online reaction.

"Lame. Lame, lame, lame. Oh, so says my 10 year-old," wrote one poster on the forum.

The data used to create the characters was compiled based on New Year's Eve when the company asked its Twitter followers to submit their resolutions for 2012.

"As we looked at the resolutions and the data, majority patterns and categories emerged. We decided to organize the data and share it in a fun way, and the result is the infographic," RIM wrote on its blog.

"This is not a new ad campaign."

RIM has been under tough scrutiny in recent weeks after co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis stepped down from the leadership positions due to shareholder pressure.

The company is in the midst of refocusing its strategies, and launched its "Be Bold'' advertising campaign earlier this month in an effort to boost its market share in the United States and promote its flagship BlackBerry Bold smartphone.

New CEO Thorsten Heins said after his appointment that marketing would be one of his priorities as the company attempts to kick-start a recovery.

RIM's social media effort gone awry comes after McDonald's launched a promotion on Twitter earlier this month intended to encourage positive tweets about its restaurants.

Instead the publicity campaign — launched under hashtag "McDStories," which allowed all of the public's posts to be categorized in one place on Twitter — was highjacked by users who recalled their negative experiences at the company's restaurants.