The branded app has fallen out of favor in the last year or so, and likely for good reason. Aside from task-driven m-commerce and shopping apps, even the clever branded tchotchke concept got overdone in a hurry after the app platform emerged several years ago.
Some marketers have come back at the concept recently with a revival of the advergame model. M&Ms has a genuinely challenging gadget construction title in the market. And the Coca-Cola Fanta brand recently issued a social game called Fruit Slam that reaches across Facebook and iOS platforms. But we are no longer besieged with the torrent of disposable do-nothing apps from major brands -- what in 2009 was fast becoming the mobile equivalent of the trade show squeeze ball and mouse pad.
One of the things brands discovered about branded apps was that to do them well and get continued engagement, the marketer or its agency had to behave more like a publisher than an advertiser. It turns out that digital platforms do give marketers more direct access to consumers that can circumvent traditional media, but the more direct distribution channel doesn’t necessarily give the brand anything of interest to say. Damn, this media stuff was harder than it looked.
And so it bears noting when a media company makes a genuine effort and aligns their brand identity, other marketing campaigns, and valuable content with a compelling event. Toshiba has launched its third iteration of the annual Times Square Ball app for Google Play and IOS. This well-made, eminently useful app is in tune with the brand’s major presence in Times Square. It sponsors and runs one of the largest screens in the zone, the Toshiba Zone monitor at One Times Square. Toshiba worked with the producers of the Times Square event, The Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment.
The app is a mobile broadcast of the event. It has its own Webcast, which does what every TV-alternative video program should do -- exceed the network effort. This live video feed and hosted ad-free program goes on for six hours with hostess Allison Hagendorf of The CW’s “The Next” and it includes otherwise unnoticed aspects of the Time Square event like the ball raising.
The agenda for the app-cast genuinely complements and extends the kinds of music and mirth programming we already know will come from the Dick Clark legacy show with Ryan Seacrest, MTV’s concerts and CNN's Anderson Cooper giggle-fest. This programming will have interviews with the Time Square event creators as well as those who traveled from afar to be part of the craziness. They are covering New Year’s Eve like an Olympics.
And of course there will be the relentless musical acts. By the way. is anyone here old enough to recall media coverage of New Year's Eve before Dick Clark “Rocked” it out of the purview of Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians doing the music and countdown from the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria? Here is a clip of the 1957 New Year’s event sponsored by Clairol. Stick with it for a few minutes to see Guy’s early product integration involving Clairol. His first number marks the year of the company’s founding.
In some ways Toshiba mobilizes, modernizes and socializes the very early TV model by launching its own video channel on smartphones and tablets. This app lets the user submit images of themselves for possible posting on the Toshiba Times Square screen during the evening. App users can vote on the images that will appear on the live monitor every hour between 7 and 11 p.m. According to the company, almost 60,000 photos were uploaded last year from the nearly 300,000 downloads of the app across 200 countries.
The end results of the effort remain to be seen. But it strikes me that this is the kind of branded mobile media that marketers should pursue. The brand (electronic gadgets of all sorts) aligns well with all of the media that is being made and consumed on New Year’s Eve. The content is ambitious and generous, and of real value to an end user. It uses the mobile channel as a second screen, an alternative video venue that is effective for revelers away from a first screen or those trapped by the predictable programming someone in their living room insists upon watching. And it is the kind of branding effort that can over time attach a brand to an event.
Ultimately, that is the emerging goal of marketing models that are no longer attached only to specific media. If the cross-platform, multi-screen next stage of media is one in which brands have to align with consumer “journeys” throughout a day, then they need to look for ways to sponsor moments -- not just media.