Two things have happened to influence this article. The other day, I happened to run across two ‘popular’ apps on the App Store, and decided to give them a go. After this seemingly irrelevant event, I read this article by @faris (follow him, he’s an interesting fellow) on how to ‘do’ digital marketing. Suddenly, something just clicked.
You’re probably not aware of Ferrero Australia’s suite of Tic Tac apps, so let me give you the run-down. In the beginning, there was Tic Tac (or Tic Tac Classic, as it’s now called).
It essentially turns your iPhone/iPod Touch into a big box of Tic Tacs, which you can shake to your heart’s content, complete with dodgy Tic Tac physics, and that classic Tic Tac sound you get when you shake the box. You choose from one of many flavours, pop the virtual lid, pour out the Tic Tacs into your mouth/bin/dog, and tap the empty box to have it magically refilled. Repeat. Think iPint, but with Tic Tacs.
After some time, Ferrero Australia decided to build on their original app, in order to gain popularity. You might call it ‘going viral’, unless you’ve read the article I refer to at the beginning of this post (you really should). Essentially, it’s the same app, with what I would call a ‘football stickers’ game bolted on. Whatever you used to be into, whether it be Pokémon cards, or Magic the Gathering, you know the deal. Gotta catch ’em all. This time, instead of giving you access to a variety of flavours of Tic Tac, like the original, the app only gives you one specific flavour, which you have to pass on (or pour on) to friends, through the power of Bluetooth. You also have a number of empty receptacles, for other Tic Tac flavours, which you have to receive from friends, who hopefully carry the same app, and a different flavour to yours. Confusing, right? This is complemented by leaderboards of the ‘most popular’ flavours, and the most successful ‘sharers’. There’s just one thing I don’t get.
Trading cards, and any other real-world activities that involve trading anything are mainly popular for a couple of reasons. Firstly, what you collect are physical objects. You can hold them, physically swap them, make your friends eat them, whatever. They have a tangible value. Call me cynical, but I don’t think a digital equivalent (at least one this simplistic) is going to cut it. Secondly, people are big on bragging. Back in the day, a full football sticker album was a near-on juvenile equivalent to the Holy Grail. That’s not even to mention to massive props anyone would get for having a million ‘doubles’, or the value ‘shiny’ stickers, cards, or Gogos Crazy Bones bring to the table. That’s just not something you can get with an iTouch App, no matter how dodgy the physics are. Indeed, something tells me that Ferrero Australia assumed that potential customers around the globe would engage in the following discussion:
“Oh, hey dude!”
“I’ve just downloaded this BODACIOUS app!”
“Righteous! What does it let you do, brother?”
“It lets you pretend that your expensive iPhone is a 50p box of Tic Tacs, but that is fine, because I am modest!”
“But it doesn’t let you have all the flavours! We need to trade for that to happen!”
“I am eager to engage in such a minty-fresh exchange! Where do I sign up?”
“You just need to go to the App Store, find the app, download it, wait for it to install, open it, set it up, configure the Bluetooth settings, and BOOM!”
“Easy like pie!”
“Now all the women will love us!”
Well, the last few lines weren’t accurate, but you get the general idea. Who’s willing to go through all that hassle for such an ineffectual result? Does the value of swapping virtual Tic Tacs really justify the hassle of setting up the virtual exchange to make all of this possible? The disappointing scores on the app’s leaderboards suggest it doesn’t. Things need to be fun. Failing that, they need to be real, to afford all the real benefits I described earlier.
I know Tic Tacs are a silly, and somewhat boring example, but I feel this is a valuable lesson in digital advertising. You can’t take a successful offline trend and recreate it online. Instead of trying to mimic and reproduce the ‘gotta catch ’em all’ mentality, digital marketers and advertisers should be thinking of what they can do that’s unique, that you can’t do with any other medium. Why a trading game? Why not, ‘How fast can you shake this box of virtual Tic Tacs in a minute?’ Sure, you could have leaderboards, which measure number of shakes per minute. You could hook it up with Facebook Connect, so then you could trash-talk your friends, too. It could be a competition. Everybody loves competitions (especially competitions that don’t bar new entrants for lack of friends, ahem) and it’s certainly something you can’t reproduce offline. Well, unless you have very steady hands and a stopwatch. But, yeah, just a thought.
Well, at least we did end up talking about Tic Tacs.
I know I’m (relatively) late to the party, but I’ve just sat down and watched Apple’s iPhone OS 4 keynote. There were some really nice features mentioned, such as multitasking, increased security functionality, and their new game platform. One thing that didn’t so much surprise me, but shock me, was Jobs’ message that Apple is entering the advertising world with the latest iteration of their iPhone OS, with iAd.
In case you haven’t seen the keynote, Apple iAd will allow ads on the iPhone to essentially be ‘better’. Steve Jobs argues about these new Apple iAds being an excellent mix of interactivity and emotion. It sounds like Jobs wants to daub all the ads on the handset with his renowned Apple magic. During the keynote, he demonstrated three such ‘iAds’, which people from Apple had mocked up themselves. As expected, they were each very swish, very nice, and very ‘Apple’-looking. The first was a Toy Story 3 ad, which Jobs says is apparently a great movie. The ad, when accessed from within another app, launches itself in a page that pops up. The ad offers various noise-making gimmicks, also offering the latest trailers and videos related with the film. It also allows you to see nearby cinemas where you can catch the film, through a nice Google Maps crossover. In addition to this, lets you buy a Toy Story app directly out of the ad, without visiting the App Store, which is one of the features the new OS provides. The second ad shown, a Nike ad, similarly let you view videos, and also provides access to Nike iD, where I believe it’ll allow you to purchase branded clothing right out of the ad, again. The last ad was for Target, and made specifically for their back-to-school sale, letting you create your own ‘dorm room’, and again, purchase homewares directly from the ad itself.
It’s a nice idea, and the demoed ads did look very nice, and hey, they looked fun, but iAd raised some major questions. Firstly, Jobs revealed that Apple will sell and host all of these ads, and when they are deployed, will keep 40% of profits made from them, and give 60% of the revenues generated back to the app developer. This seems as if it will turn Apple into something of an ad agency itself, which is troublesome. What do Apple (themselves) know about advertising, and what implications will this have for ad agencies? Sure, it will may create more business for them, crafting this new breed of immersive iAds. However, since Apple will be entirely in charge of distribution, will they be able to ensure that relevant ads get sent to the right consumers, or indeed that iAds will be placed in the correct apps? This is not always clear-cut (will they know to place diaper ads in beer-related apps?), and takes a level of market research that I don’t think Apple will be able to carry out.
Jobs doesn’t discuss how the iAd system will work, but I assume that when a developer chooses to include iAds in their app, Apple simply displays ads from their ad database inside the app in question. However, what implications does this have for existing, developer-made ads in apps? Sure, some current ads are shameless punts for a little extra money, but some developers rely on their own ads to advertise their other products on the App Store. Will Apple still allow these home-made ads to exist, or coexist alongside iAds, or will they simply assert themselves as the only advertising option as far as the iPhone is concerned?
The scale of the iAds shown is also troublesome. Jobs wants to create immersive, engaging, and emotional ads. The scale of the ads showcased at the keynote is mindblowing, however. Jobs states that currently, the average iPhone user spends 30 minutes ‘inside’ apps. I think with the time taken to explore these new iAds, that figure might (if we’re being optimistic) skyrocket, as every app with ads paves the way to a new iAd experience. Will people actually bother to spend time in these new iAd worlds, though? The iAds showcased were almost like apps in themselves, and I think Apple needs to be very careful about this. Time is always of the essence, and would people bother to spend their ‘app-time’ looking at ads, instead of actually doing what they initially set out to achieve? The current click-through rates of ads must currently be abysmal; Jobs says so himself that current iPhone apps are terrible. Suffice to say, getting people to look at iAds will be hard, especially without the necessary insight for proper placement.
I think Apple also need to consider the expectations created by the medium. People don’t really expect to be inundated with sprawling ads from their smartphone, and might not explore them, as a result. It seems that Apple want to change the world, again, and who knows? They might. If they can get enough unique ad content, then this could really take off. Then again, there’s always the chance that people might shun them, and refuse to accept that their phone, which is generally something very personal, is suddenly a broadcast medium for advertising.
In his keynote, Jobs says that he wants iAds to be interactive, yet capture the ’emotion’ of a TV ad. Jobs seems to be overlooking the fact that an iPhone is not a TV. Apple need to be very careful of how they propagate iAds, if they plan on invading personal space, especially so with messages that may be irrelevant.
I’m not sure if Apple can pull this off, but I certainly think we need to wait and see how this pans out.