Flappy Bird And Dumb Starbucks Cause A Stir

Fans of Superman might be forgiven if they felt as if they’d woken up in Bizarro Marketing World over the weekend. A guy reportedly making $50,000 a day in in-app advertising pulled his game from the Apple and Android stores — tweeting “I cannot take this [criticism, presumably] anymore” — while the buzziest bistro in la-la land was a “parody” coffee shop called “Dumb Starbucks” that purported to offer “Wuppy Duppy Latte” and a “Dumb Norah Jones Duets” CD and had a line out the door.

“Flappy Bird,” an apparently addictive game that not only borrows heavily from games that went before it but also doesn’t do it very well or accessibly, had nonetheless risen to the top of the charts in recent weeks.

Dong Nguyen, the Vietnamese creator of “Flappy Bird,” pulled the game yesterday, as he threatened to do Saturday, but not before setting off a frenzy of downloads and additional ratings for the app which “launched in May, but it did not gain traction until November,” Salvador Rodriquez reports in the Los Angeles Times.

Last week, BuzzFeed’s Matt Bellassai posted “The 21 Stages Of Having Your Life Completely Ruined By Flappy Bird.” Step 1 was “Ignore all of the warnings and download Flappy Bird because obviously it can’t be as bad as everybody says it is.”

You are on your own in figuring out how to apply that bit of marketing insight to create a similar hysteria for your own brand of widget.

“There were some unproven theories floating around about the game's success, including the use of bots to get it on Top 10 lists artificially, organic enthusiasm on social media and a surge in amusing user reviews in the Apple App and Google Play stores,” writes CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet. Last week, ‘Flappy Bird’ had an average four-star rating from more than 543,000 reviews in the Apple App Store and 228,000 on Android.”

As far as the decision to remove the game from the online stores, “there’s a running theory that Nguyen is some sort of secret marketing genius, and this was all a big ploy to increase downloads of the game,” writes Forbes.com contributor Paul Tassi, comparing the tactic to the Disney Vault practice of promising to cut off supply to increase demand.  

But Tassi doesn’t buy the “diabolical” theory, nor does he believe the creator acted in a “preemptive strike to avoid being gone after by a giant like Nintendo, whose influence is felt very strongly in Flappy Bird’s art design, or a smaller game like Piou Piou, which Flappy Bird essentially cloned.” He believes Nguyen “is just a guy overwhelmed by the level of fame and infamy Flappy Bird has brought him.”

Nguyen himself tweeted “I can call Flappy Bird is a success of mine. But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it.”

If you are one of the millions who are apparently in need of intervention, the game still works, and the ads still pop up and — complicated as it may be to Nguyen’s peace of mind — the revenue is still presumably flowing, only in greater magnitude. 

As for Dumb Starbucks, its free beverages — only iced coffees and lattes were available although the menu board included a bunch of likely concoctions such as Dumb Vanilla Blonde Roast — created such a social media buzz at the shop that opened in Los Angeles’ Los Feliz neighborhood that the two baristas had to shut down at 5:20 local time “to the dismay of dozens of people still waiting for a free cup of dumb coffee,” Ben Fritz and Julie Jargon report in the Wall Street Journal.

KTLA was there if you weren’t.

“Rumors about the store’s origin percolated through the crowd — a marketing ploy, a pop-up art installation, perhaps reality TV?” writes Samantha Schaefer in the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s a ballsy move on their part,” Ilya Khramtsou, 24, tells Schaefer. “It feels like they’re sticking it to the company. Everybody drinks Starbucks coffee, like zombies.”

A Starbucks spokeswoman tells Schaefer that it is “looking into” the situation. 

Forbes contributor David Hochman is among those who point to a Dumb Starbucks FAQ, part of which reads: “Although we are a fully functioning coffee shop, for legal reasons Dumb Starbucks needs to be categorized as a work of parody art. So, in the eyes of the law, our “coffee shop” is actually an art gallery and the “coffee” you’re buying is considered the art. But that’s for our lawyers to worry about. All you need to do is enjoy our delicious coffee!”

I wonder how many people on that Dumb Starbucks line were playing Flappy Bird. Both products seem to appeal to a similarly masochistic demographic.