Take Bud.tv, for instance. It has a ton of video assets that might be considered a generous gift to users. But in an online environment where there is much more diverse entertainment everywhere, the contribution seems puny. It is both more than most users need from their beer brand -- and less than they need from a media source. I wonder if some branded apps are headed in a similar direction.
Take the artfully crafted Chanel app for the iPhone. It is beautiful, a visual embodiment of the great brand. It has the latest video of Chanel clothes on the runway, slideshows of...Chanel on the runway. And news about, well, Chanel everywhere else. For tried and true Chanel fans, this is the bomb -- or the Hepburn, or whatever Chanel loyalists covet. Of course the updates are few and far between, and a fashion lover will not want to rely on this for design news. For fashion lovers, why not go to CondeNet's more comprehensive Style.com app, where all designers and all shows are covered and a full staff is there to make good on the promise of a real news utility?
Pink's Funhouse is a little more deep and interesting as a branded app. It does a fair job of fan service. This is the kind of mobile app that makes more sense to me from a CRM perspective. From song previews to well-refreshed news, a direct link to Pink's Web site and the ability to buy songs right from the sample page, this one is almost compelling. But again, a regular refresh of images and perhaps a little more blog-like content, and links to like-minded fellow artists, would help here. I am not sure the "Funhouse" promise is realized in the end. And while I understand the promotional foci of apps like Chanel and Pink's Funhouse, I wonder if these apps need to learn a few more recent tricks from branded media. Most major news organizations have forsaken the old fantasy that consumers only consult a single source. They have learned to serve readers by aggregating competitors. You can only be of so much use to a customer when you have to cage them into assets related to your brand. Asking a brand marketer to break the myopic focus on his own product may be too much, but ultimately that points to an inherent limitation of the format.
Arguably, attempts at greater depth and stickiness can fall flat. The iPhone app for the movie "Quantum of Solace" is a bit of a disappointment. First, it really is just a film promo -- and not a particularly imaginative one, at that. The downloadable app includes trailers, cast bios and video blog entries from the set, but there is nothing here that either uses the phone in an interesting way or even involves me in the fiction. It is just a container for film assets, a Web site in an app box. For a pre-existing audience of 007 fans, perhaps there is intrinsic value to this. To this disinterested audience member, the app does not communicate anything special about the Bond brand or this film in particular. I would have been more engaged and intrigued by an app that leveraged some aspect of the film plot or Bond legacy in an interesting way.
Which is not to say that brands can't win with users by executing some clever idea well in a mobile app. At OMMA Mobile last week, Justin Herz, vice president of digital marketing and production service at Warner Bros. Entertainment, said the company's iPhone apps supporting "Dark Knight" and Sex and the City" properties "performed very well despite different demographics." The "Dark Knight" app involved applying the Joker's face to your own photo to pass along. It very effectively communicated the "Why So Serious" tagline. "Sex and the City: Carrie's Closet" was a much more ambitious app that benefited from early lessons. Here, the user actually has a real application. She can take shots of her own wardrobe and mix and match outfits. It is very clever. I am a clothing shlub myself, so I cannot imagine myself using such an app to plan an ensemble. It seems like too much damned work. But it is within the realm of possibility that some fashionista wannabes out there identifies enough with the "SITC" vibe to use it this way.
But what if users didn't bother with the functionality of these branded apps and just regarded them as clever tchotchkes? Wouldn't that be OK, too? Does a consumer really have to satisfy the marketer's wet dream of living with their brand, loving their brand, or making their brand a part of their everyday life? Maybe it is enough to play with these little toys for a short while and delete them from our decks. One of the good things about more open smart phone marketplaces is that applications become fairly disposable. For marketers, this can be an advantage because it opens users to experiment and discard. I am unlikely to use the "Sex in the City" app to document and remix my wardrobe. My fall (1998) collection of Old Navy long-sleeved pullovers doesn't photograph well. And they are all blue anyway. If only they sold GrrAnimals for adults, I could risk some color in my life. Anyway, I play with the app for a while, acknowledge its wit and polish -- and then delete it. That process engaged me longer with the film brand than a dozen repetitive TV ads and online trailers.
Shallow but savvy, the Virtual Zippo Lighter does about three things very well. It lets you sample the artwork available on Zippo models and inscribe some of them. You can flip the lighter top, light it and even blow on the flame, all using the embedded input technologies. Apart for use at concerts, there is little point to the app beyond these simple exercises, but why should there be? The app is clever enough to attract non-Zippo fans and may even remind them that the company sports numerous designs. It may even recall for some of us a time in our youth when flicking a Zippo has special street cred. It didn't over-promise, but it engaged me longer than most ads. I can delete it now. Job done.