We have seen before how hard it is for branded mobile apps to achieve the perfect sponsorship Zen once practiced by insurance agent calendars and beer-sponsored bar coasters or bottle openers. Few if any branded apps really put the utility before the brand. And there are few branded apps that perform essential, routine tasks.
The many gift-givers of last Christmas' first run of branded apps and more recent sponsored driving games and bathroom finders are nice-to-have "utilitainments" that are easily forgotten. I think the early word on branded apps is that they have been oversold. Most brands don't have the user love they think they do. And most of their apps are not really memorable or useful enough to serve as more than curios.
The Absolut app comes at this problem in its own way. While useful in a fashion to bartenders and bar-hoppers, its real appeal is sheer creative energy. The thing is so lush to use and interesting in its own right that you may well remember to try it and show it off to others on your next Friday night on the town.
The novel interface uses a rotating carousel of cards to let you find an appropriate drink by place (GPS), color, time (internal clock), bar volume (microphone), what's hot now (Internet feed), weather (GPS + weather), and even to recommend drinks to friends (Twitter and Facebook). The phone even pulls down a live worldwide feed of what people are choosing now.
I have no idea why I need half of these things, and for the 20 minutes I spent with the thing last night I just didn't care. It was fun and engaging and planted the Absolut brand in my head. Obviously the designers had the multimedia and connectivity aspects of the phone in mind, and this is about as integrated a branded app as I have seen. It is a show-off. It knows it. It is fine with that.
Which is not to say there isn't real utility here. Drinkspiration does exactly what it advertises. It turns the mixed drink into an exercise in connoisseurship. The app helps you think about the mixed drink from all different angles, from time and geography to the shape of the glass and environment. The drink history lets you track what you have had in the past and may want to try again...if only you could remember through the vodka haze. You can search for drinks by ingredient. And while the emphasis clearly is on Absolut brands, the recipes do go afield from the usual brand myopia.
I have to say, at the risk of gushing at 90 proof, I find this level of creativity energizing -- if only because it is so rare. Think about the levels on which this app works. Its cleverness and sharp professionalism reflect directly on the identity of the brand. Beneath the good looks there is a utility that some may embrace regularly and others might just show off. It is useful in that higher sense that it is interesting. It has the practical effect of presenting the product itself in an appetizing light that entices us to use Absolut in more ways than we imagined. And most of all, it elevates consumption itself. Throwing back a few becomes an art involving place, mood, timing, and taste.
Acquisitiveness and class aspiration arguably were the key fantasies behind the first age of mass consumption. In this age of niches and self-conscious uniqueness, we like to believe that connoisseurship replaces crass consumption. This app plays us as beautifully as we play it. Don Draper would be proud.