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Mobile Applications:
The Next Big Thing In Mobile Marketing?

apps_grid.gifOver the past several months, a new phenomenon has been sweeping the world of mobile advertising and marketing. In addition to traditional banners, text links, and videos, Mobile Applications have won a major place in the hearts of brands and agencies alike.

In this article we’ll take a look at what is a “mobile app”, why they are so popular for advertising and marketing, what has caused their sudden popularity, plus we’ll look at several interesting examples from leading brands.

What is a “Mobile App”?

“Almost every request we get from a brand these days includes a mobile application,” says Charles Henri Prevost, VP Global Business Development at Phonevalley (the mobile branch of Publicis). While the world of consumers that are using mobile apps is rapidly growing, everyone may not yet be familiar with the concept.

A Mobile application is a small program that is written especially to be downloaded and run in a phone. As we’ll see below, these little apps can do many things, from entertainment to communication to providing useful information (e.g. weather, financial, sports), and they provide a very powerful vehicle for brand communication.

Mobile Apps for Marketing

There are several specific reasons that mobile apps are especially well suited for advertising and marketing, but fundamentally it is because they can provide a much richer and more compelling user experience than a WAP or mobile web site.

For example, a mobile app can often provide a very interactive and compelling user interface, because the response time can be much quicker than the mobile web. “For brands, mobile applications are a very unique way to engage consumers and plunge them into a branded environment in which they will be more sensitive to the brand messages,” said Alexandre Mars, CEO of Phonevalley.

apps_carling.gifIn addition, mobile apps can be written to take advantage of specific features available in a phone. For example, Carling’s “Fill & Drink” iPhone app has been designed to make good use of the accelerometers and large screen of the iPhone. It’s purely an entertainment app, that let’s you pretend to drink a Carling beer on your iPhone.
Click to see a video of the Carling app.

Also, many mobile apps can be used even when there is not a data connection. This allows the consumer to interact with the brand in more places and at more times. A sponsored mobile game would be a good example of this kind of mobile app.

Scott Seaborn, Head of Mobile at Ogilvy Group UK put this into an historical perspective for us. “Any new advertising media tends to borrow from the media that came before it. The first TV ad was actually a radio ad with a still image in front. It took 10 years for TV to become creative and really entertaining in ads.”

“The first mobile ads were banners on a WAP site, which were clearly borrowed from the internet. But now we’ve been doing mobile for 10 years, and I think we’re starting to see true mobile advertising appear in these apps.”

A Wide Variety of Applications

Taking full advantage of these features has enabled brands and agencies to come up with applications that are very popular with specific customer segments. There are several ways that mobile apps are being used for advertising and marketing.

Some apps are “branded applications”, where the application provides entertainment or a service, and also carries a brand message at the same time. A good example of this would be the “Get In There Tools” from Lynx, or the F1 mobile game from PUMA. Each of these provides entertainment to the consumer, but also includes branding.

Alexandre worked on the PUMA campaign, and he explains, “When consumers play a great F1 java game on their mobile, and they see ads around the track, they are receiving a brand message while having fun. This is very valuable!”


(see more about the LYNX campaign here, or about the PUMA campaign here.)

In some other cases, the application itself can be completely about the brand. For example, Chanel has released a mobile application that let’s consumers keep up to date with everything related to Chanel – the fashion shows, store openings, art exhibits, etc. It lets a consumer that is very interested in fashion build a strong attachment to the brand.


These applications are essentially downloadable advertisements, but as the advertising world has seen, if the quality of an ad is good enough in any media, people will want to see it.

Finally, some mobile apps act more as carriers for regular advertising. Smaato has been doing this for several years, even when mobile apps were very limited. Harald Neidhardt CMO & Co-founder of Smaato says “With cool applications that spread now like wildfire around the world, developers are also looking to monetize free apps with mobile advertising.”


As another example, Qualcomm has announced a partnership with ad platform company Amobee which will allow developers on the Qualcomm platform to include banner ads that will be served by Amobee. (see recent MobiAD article for more details)

Also, it is well known that establishing standards for advertising is a critical step in enabling new media channels. The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) has recognized the potential of mobile apps, and has started working to put together the necessary standards. The MMA has also published a overview guide that looks specifically at the advertising possibilities within mobile applications.
(To get this overview guide, see the box at the bottom of this article.)

We’ve written up a few additional examples of campaigns using mobile apps. Read about apps from Virgin, BMW, and Ogilvy.

A Tidal Wave of Mobile Apps

Although mobile applications have existed for several years, until recently they were primarily utilities and business applications for smartphone users. As these represented quite a small audience, they were of limited appeal for advertising or marketing purposes.

However, starting just after the launch of the iPhone, the popularity of mobile apps for marketing has exploded. “Three years ago, we were doing no apps advertising all, it was all WAP. However, in the past several months, basically all I ‘ve done has been apps,” said Ogilvy’s Seaborn.

The world of mobile apps is now very large, with reportedly over 10,000 in the iPhone app store alone at the moment. There seem to be several inter-related reasons why mobile apps reached a “tipping point” and subsequently have skyrocketed in popularity:

New phones such as the iPhone, G1 Android phone, and Nokia N95 are very popular and so the base of phones that can run apps has expanded. The iPhone in particular now represents a significant, high value customer segment that is very appealing to many brands. We can expect that Android phone users will develop over time into a very valuable segment. Also, java is enabled on a wide cross section of phones now, again growing the “reach” of mobile apps.

Technical Capabilities
The capabilities of the mobile ecosystem have greatly improved. Primarily phones have improved to include big color screens, lots of memory and fast processors, and increasingly, special features like GPS or accelerometers. And of course we also now have fast network access in most parts of the world, often available at affordable flat rates.

There seem to be two factors at work which have made mobile app distribution more widespread. First, consumers are more and more familiar with (and not afraid of) downloading and sideloading files as a result of their experience with MP3’s and video. Secondly, “Apps Stores” have made it very easy to find, download, and install applications.

Apps Stores

These are mobile online sites that list hundreds or thousands of mobile apps, and provide the means to download the apps to a phone. They usually categorize the applications to make them easier to find, they provide search capability, and usually some sort of consumer voting/ranking system to make recommendations.


There are now “Apps stores” from several major vendors, for example, Apple, Google/Android, Nokia, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

And new ones appearing regularly, such as Litmus from O2 UK (currently in beta), and the recently announced Palm app store, which supports both Windows Mobile and the Palm OS and already contains 5,000 apps.

Jeff Sellinger, EVP-GM of CBS Mobile, comments about the impact of Apps stores: “The iphone app store has made it easy for content owners who have developed quality, made-for-mobile content to reach a sizable audience.”

“The ease of use of the apps store allows good content to rise to the top – making it more relevant from a marketing perspective. Once you build an audience you can introduce features that expose other properties or marketing agendas. Free distribution for the application has increased awareness for our brand, our mobile website and ultimately has increased our user base.”

Making The Apps

Making mobile apps takes specialized skills, but the effort is relatively light, certainly when compared with developing normal PC applications. This is because mobile apps usually have a very specific focus, and limited functionality .

While some mobile agencies have developed this expertise in-house, others partner with external specialist companies that focus on this area. One such company is called XS2 The World, from Amsterdam, which has done some very creative apps for Guiness and more recently Fanta (we’ll write that one up soon). Another company is Golden Gekko, which developed both the Lynx Get In There Tools campaign mentioned above, as well as Ogilvy’s Chrimbell Christmas Card application.

According to Magnus Jern, MD of Golden Gekko, there are several key points to keep in mind when developing great marketing apps.

  • Prioritize just the key functionality, avoid the temptation to make the app do too many things, or you will never finish.
  • do rapid prototyping with many iterations, with time for lots of user testing and input, as a great user experience is the main objective!
  • Good QA testing is critical, especially for java apps, as java works a little differently on every platform and phone.

You can use your phone to go to this URL to see some additional apps from Golden Gekko:

One issue which faces all agencies or developers is the necessity to choose which platform to target. Unfortunately, there are several different mobile phone platforms, and they are not compatible. For example, an application developed for the iPhone won’t run on Android, nor will it run on Windows Mobile, Palm, or Nokia. And given that REACH is almost always a key objective for marketing and advertising, this can be a serious issue.

apps_quote2.gifMany apps are developed in a mobile version of Java, as this is available on a large percentage of mobile phones. Unfortunately, this approach often means that the application can’t take advantage of the more advanced features of specific devices – such as accelerometers or GPS information – and so is limited in its creativity.

It looks as though this technical fragmentation will continue for sometime, there doesn’t seem to be any easy solution in sight. The same app can be developed in several versions, but there are still some limitations about distribution, for example iPhone apps can officially only downloaded from the Apple iPhone App store, not third party app stores.

Continued Growth?

It looks at though the usage of mobile apps in marketing will continue to grow and more brands will try them in the coming year. With such a wide variety of platforms, stores, and applications, discovery is actually becoming the big problem these days.

apps_quote1.gifI’m sure we’ll see some incredibly good examples, and some which do not work effectively with consumers. At the end of the day, we have to remember that engaging the consumer is top priority.

Alexandre of Phonevalley sums it up: “Marketers need to remember that mobile applications have to be either useful or fun. Mobile users will be reluctant to use any application that is not perfectly targeted to their specific needs or to their desire for entertainment and mobile personalization. The concept behind the application will be key!”

For more information, also read these MobiAD articles:
• Interview with Alexandre Mars of Phonevalley/Publicis
• Interview with Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy
• Lynx Get In There Tools campaign
• PUMA campaign
• Mobile Applications: Marketing Examples We Like

MMA Overview of Advertising
In Mobile Apps

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and company name here:

06.01.2009    Tags: ,
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