“What are you doing with Snooki on your phone?” my daughter blurts at Thanksgiving as she peruses my iPhone deck.
She knows full well that she can embarrass me in public just by reading off the apps on my phone. We used to aspire to having phones express our personalities in some focused presentational way via wallpapers and ringtones. But a limitless trove of apps has changed that dynamic and turned many people’s phones into weird assemblages of their own taste, the range of their curiosities, and random acts of downloading.
It would be an interesting exercise to hand your smartphone off to a disinterested observer and ask him what he thinks your app collection says about you. Perhaps one day it will be a common therapist technique for doing initial assessments.
In the case of my daughter, she just likes to put her Dad on the spot and make trouble. So she goes straight for my wife. “Do you know he has Snooki on his phone?”
Luckily, even my new wife knows better than to take this bait. She has seen the wall of comic strip archives in my office. She has suffered through viewings of obscure silent film comedians and Fleischer Studios black-and-white Popeye cartoons. I haven’t treated her to the full Russ Meyer film festival yet, but she still wants to know how I even know “Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS” actually exists as a film series, let alone why I can recall that Dyanne Thorne starred in them. Snooki? Small potatos. She knows she married an intellectual slut.
Truth be told. I like the Snookify Me! app. It lets anyone apply the signature and self-consciously weird look of Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of "Jersey Shore" fame to any person or object. You can overlay her style of glasses, clothing, hair onto your own phone cam image and share.
And the app maker behind it, Apps Genius is spinning this success at celebrity app licensing into a new Celebrity Entertainment Division aimed specifically at leveraging stardom in apps. The interesting thing about this project is that as CEO Adam Kotkin told me, there is an opportunity here to use apps to do something more than just exploit name recognition. “Celebrities started putting out games that didn’t focus on the celebrity itself,” he says. One fellow "Jersey Shore" star has her name associated with a Scrabble-like game that adds “Guido” English words to the mix, for instance. When we think of "Jersey Shore," Scrabble isn’t the first thing that pops into mind.
Kotkin, whose company is located near the Jersey shore, was able to contact Snooki, and together they developed an idea that worked more naturally out of her celebrity essence: an outrageous style. He was pleasantly surprised by her understanding of her own brand. “I think when people think of celebrities they think of higher beings who don’t know much. But dealing with Nicole has been a pleasure. She knows what she wants. Brainstorming with her has been unbelievable.”
Snooki has a deal for up to eight apps, and Apps Genius is already working with several other celebs. “We try to get to know the celebrity and find out what they like and what their fans like,” Kotkin says.
Snooki has almost 4 million Twitter followers and almost 1 million Facebook fans. The new age of the socially connected celebrity gives stars who are paying attention a better understanding of how and where they resonate with a fan base.
The personality-driven celebrity app has the potential to do more than serve simply as another promotional base like a website. Instead a suite of apps can tap into specific qualities of the celebrity. Snooki herself Snookified her Thanksgiving turkey and sent it to fans. “She is having fun with it, too,” Kotkin says. The app has been showcased on Conan and Wendy Williams. Conan Snookified himself.
And it goes without saying that leveraging celebrity in an app the star herself likes also helps activate the social network formed around her. Full promotion of anything related to the "Jersey Shore" stars has been held back until the next season begins, but in the meantime Snooki has been tweeting about the app a couple of times a week. She is her own discovery engine for the app. The app lends itself to contests. In fact, Snooki will be judging user submissions of Snookied content in an upcoming event.
And celebrity-driven apps also have the potential to make the celeb into a media platform herself. Who wants to be first up to sponsor the tanning feature in Snookify Me! for instance? An appified celeb should think of herself the way any brand should on the platform -- as a publisher. Scheduled content refreshes, in this case Snooki’s latest fashion whims, are a natural next step. Integrating the apps as user input engines with the Facebook and Twitter social networks could create an amazing loop of engagement that would be much more powerful than a celebrity Web destination.
In this configuration, the app becomes the real intimacy device, the tool that makes the rest of the celebrity brand ecosystem more personal, interactive and connected to the star. Our understanding of how the presumed “intimacy” of the mobile device actually translates into personalized experiences is still evolving. The personal connection to the device is different in the app era, but how brands understand and leverage that idea is just taking shape. We could do worse than see how the brands with the most personal connections to people -- celebrities –- learn how to connect with their base on the app platforms. Snooki may have something to teach us.
Well, her first lesson is to keep your devices out of the hands of family members. “Dad, what the hell have you got on this iPad?” my daughter asks. Crap, they got hold of the iPad. I can explain the link to the Playboy archives -- but the Guns and Ammo magazine app and “Can I Eat It?” guide to a proper pregnancy diet may get me stammering.