Geico Taps the World Beyond Smartphones

Yesterday Nielsen Mobile released a torrent of survey stats about mobile app usage and attitudes towards mobile advertising. The dominance of games, social networking, search and weather among mobile users was unsurprising. For smartphone users, 63% of them had accessed a game in the last month, 55% weather, 50% maps or search and 39% a social networking app.

Interestingly, while there are some variances, Facebook, Google, Weather Channel and Pandora enjoy massive popularity on iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile. Also interesting is how little progress we seem to have made in cracking the content discovery problem after all of these years. There is still an overwhelming dependence on the spotty app store environment. Alternative entryways like carrier home pages and third party sites are still not places we go to find apps. When it comes to app discovery among smartphone owners, recommendations from friends was nearly as important as the app stores themselves, which makes me wonder when we will see developer/publishers leverage the social nets more effectively as distribution vehicles.

But the one set of figures that hit home for me was the rate of app usage among feature phone users. While 63% of smartphone owners played a game in the last month, 52% of other mobile owners did as well. Weather attracted 55% of smartphone owners and 39% of feature phoners. Even mobile search and maps grabbed 30% of feature phoners -- social networking, 32%. While all eyes in media and marketing tend to track the bright shiny smartphone that almost all of us in the industry rely on, if you do the basic math (roughly 23%-25% smartphone penetration?) then even with a lower rate of apps usage, feature phones remain the largest app platform.

Our tendency is to see the sharp trajectory of smartphone share as an inevitable march to ubiquity. I am not so sure. This isn't like the PC or broadband market where eventual, near-total penetration was a reasonable assumption. I was at a family function recently where the majority of the people in the room, all affluent, many small-business owners and wireless-enabled for a decade, didn't have a smartphone among them. In fact several made a point of saying they didn't want one.

"It's a damn phone," one of them said defiantly as he shook his Samsung at my iPhone. While anecdotal to be sure, these attitudes remind me that the personal and emotional attachment people have to their cell phones works in a number of unexpected directions. Asking substantial shares of the market to adopt these devices does bump up against sentiments about connectedness that are quite personal. At some point we should start discussing the natural ceiling of smartphone penetration and what it means to media and marketers.

Regardless of device penetration, it is also clear from the Nielsen stats that the rise of the smartphone is driving interest in apps across the board and into feature phones. I was reminded of this trend when the folks at mobile Web app and music site Myxer announced results of a recent campaign for Geico. The ubiquitous insurance company has a custom mobile site at the Myxer portal (m.myxer.com/geico) that leverages the brand's TV ad assets. There are downloadable ringtones and wallpapers depicting the Gecko and clips from the TV spots. Myxer has done a good job building the site so that the page weight is light and quick even off a 3G network, and the asset previews seem to work. Even without downloading anything, the visitor gets to review some of the memorable lines for a creative ad campaign. The sharing mechanisms via Facebook and Twitter were almost as seamless as they are in any standalone app.

The result was 350,000 downloads in the first 60 days, according to the company. The numbers are remarkable in that the campaign was not driven explicitly by other media. The TV Geico spots provide familiarity with the assets, but their presence at Myxer was not. "The driver for the Myxer downloads was primarily the promotion on Myxer, both Web and mobile, which featured placement and home page takeovers," says Jeff Sass, vice president of business development for Myxer.

The Geico campaign does demonstrate both the promotional power of the non-app mobile Web world and the likelihood that a robust branded download market will persist in parallel to the app economy for the foreseeable future.

Tags: mobile
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