Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time: The Cost Of Under-Delivering In Branded Apps

When Apple introduced the mobile app store almost two years ago now, brands were beside themselves with anticipation. Now they could provide users with messaging, service and utility to carry around and reference throughout the day. The opportunity for a brand to change the relationship with users and get beyond mere media was promising. But more than a few of the early branded apps emphasized the "branding" over the "application," so many emerged as useless tchtochkes or just, well, ads.  

Trying to turn a brand into a utility is still hit or miss. Most branded apps like store, restaurant or even beer locators presumed the user's existing devotion to the brand. They seemed to be satisfying some brand manager's fantasy of how customers relate to their product rather than reality. And in the end, most of these apps required a hefty ad budget to buy themselves some visibility and distribution. A lot of the branded apps I play with don't actually make much of a case for the brand or communicate much about the sponsor beyond the usual promotional messaging. I always wonder if any of these apps has the capacity to convert the uninitiated and help a company actually acquire new loyalists. 

Some are getting there. But I am still amazed at the missteps and silly missed opportunities that abound in this space. There seem to be more good ideas that fail to execute.  

Coppertone's MyUV Alert seems like the perfect alignment of a genuinely important service, UV exposure monitoring, and a brand of sunscreen. And it is. Except the app meets the user at first load with (I kid you not) an enormous 20-point user agreement you have to scroll through and accept before the app loads. I speak from ignorance. I don't know just how critical this legal interruption was to ensuring the app's advice didn't cause a lawsuit, but there has to be a better way. It did make me laugh and communicated an important reminder about the Coppertone brand: We are owned by big pharma and we are lawyered up -- so don't even think about it.  

Once you drop into the app itself, there is a modicum of helpful information but it is hopelessly shallow. Current weather conditions are pulled in from The Weather Channel, but most of us already have a weather app of some sort. You are able to make "profiles" for each of your family members, but the only data points available are male, female and age. Tapping on recommendations just pops you over to a Coppertone catalog. The only place where a decent amount of education occurs is off of a tiny text button for learning more about the UV index, and this is another unappetizing scroll of tiny text.  

The personalization is so scant, the advice so bland and generic and the paths so determined to sell the goods, the whole app comes off as more cloying and self-serving than genuinely interested in protecting the consumer. The brand had a great opportunity to align itself with good health, and it just couldn't get out of its own way. This would have worked better as a sponsored section in a weather app, where it likely would have gotten better distribution.

Glade air freshener has an intriguing app that, like Coppertone's, feels as if it should work as a branding vehicle. The "Relaxing Moments Composer" is a series of three scenes (beach, pond, sand garden). Tapping objects in the scene created soothing new-age-style tones that can be played, recorded and shared.

The basic idea is good enough and it communicates elements of the brand. But it is not enough. There aren't enough interactions with the scenes. Not enough variety. Not enough ways of becoming relaxed. The consumer has to feel a little punked in the end for downloading this large app only to discover that the brand missed the chance to craft a much larger halo for itself.

If you are going to promise relaxation, then take the topic a little more seriously and offer content that really becomes a tool for unwinding. Like the Coppertone app, the Glade execution almost undermines the brand's association with the value it aspires to embrace. Rather than align itself with relaxation, the app makes me wonder if the "relaxation" messaging on the product is as shallow as its treatment in the app.

I think brands should presume that consumers are a bit skeptical when a brand wants to give them something for nothing. To impress them, super-serve them with content. Over-deliver. Otherwise, these branded apps feel less like a service and more like a pretense for an ad.

2 comments about "Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time: The Cost Of Under-Delivering In Branded Apps".
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  1. Patrick Collins, July 20, 2010 at 4:29 p.m.

    A timely reminder Steve thanks. The challenge I find that a lot of brands face is that they don't know how to break the mindset of a campaign.

    To offer something valuable to consumers they need to think more like a publisher developing an ongoing service. Rarely can a brand keep the commitment to a truly valuable ongoing service that doesn't just fall in as part of a larger campaign centered around an ad spend.

  2. Jeffrey Sass from .CLUB Domains, LLC, July 20, 2010 at 5:28 p.m.

    To this day, my favorite example of a branded app that works is Charmin's sponsorship of "SIT OR SQUAT." That said, it is a sponsorship and not a branded app from the ground up. That is probably the better, more cost effective strategy for a brand - find an existing app that is proven to be useful and that resonates with the spirit of your brand, and then sponsor it!

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