Commentary

Pop Secret Finds Its Mobile Moment...Just Before The Kernel Burns

One of the smartest things about the Pop Secret Perfect Pop app, aside from being able to determine when your microwave popcorn is done to a turn, is that it isn’t really part of a mobile channel strategy. Instead, this app is just one of many “kernels” in the larger brand strategy to find a seat on the sofa of American living rooms. "Their biggest competitor owns the movie theater, so we wanted to own the movie watching experience at home," says Trevor O’Brien,  Executive CTO of Deutsch LA, which helped the brand devise the larger campaign.

Targeting the living room movie watching experience took the shape of the PopSecretLabs.com project that regularly pops out little idea “kernels” like a Chrome browser plug-in that allows you to highlight a movie title anywhere on the Web and see if it is available from various Streaming media providers. In another Kernel you can direct a movie starring the Pop Secret Kernels. Yet another partnered with Rotten Tomatoes to match you with the film critic who shares your taste. This is part of a massive online content marketing project and the brand’s commitment to focus virtually all of it marketing spend on digital this year.

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The Perfect Pop app, however, had specifically populist roots. Turns out that overdone popcorn is an issue out there. “We used social media channels and noticed that there were a lot of random comments about burning popcorn, so that became the nugget of an idea,” O’Brien says.

The Kernel structure allows for a lot of experimentation -- placing a lot of small bets, to see what resonates. The apps were soft-launched over a month ago as testers were recruited to play with the app. In a couple of weeks, simple word of mouth netted over 40,000 downloads and in its first three weeks it surpassed 110,000 downloads and became one of Apple’s featured apps. Currently it is the fourth-most-popular free app in the Food section of Apple’s App Store.  

The media plan for PopSecretLabs is not reliant on banner buys and in-app promotions. Much of the distribution is handled via smart work with blogs and partnerships with companies like Rotten Tomatoes and OKCupid.

But the technical lift here is not slight. “There is an algorithm that has to be tested,” he adds. Not only did the ideal rate of popping need to be determined as the signal of optimal cooking time, but volume levels, ambient and conversational noise and distance from the microwave all had to be handled by the app.  

The app also allows for iteration and could well become a platform itself. There is a character built into the app to enhance its appeal by reacting to the cooking process. But the team may add other functionality such as reviewing movie suggestions while waiting for the popcorn to be ready or reward frequent users with coupons.  

It seems to be a good lesson in how a brand can break through with an app. If the core functionality is cool and useful and fun, then there is an opportunity to build other experiences onto the platform to keep things fresh and perhaps expand audience. The app, of course, gives back to Deutsch and Pop Secret loads of data about popcorn popping times of day, locations, and usage patterns that the team could use that data not only for marketing, but also to turn into data-driven content for users like popcorn maps. And of course, now Pop Secret has the opportunity to drive that new mobile audience back to the fun widgets that are collected at the PopSecretLabs.com site. Alas, a missing link here is that the main site is not optimized for mobile -- the one device most likely to be referenced in that living room setting the brand wants to conquer.

But more to the point, the Perfect Pop app is not part of a mobile strategy or an app strategy so much as it is a branded idea that happened to find its best expression on devices. Ultimately, mobile will get beyond these early halting years of ported Web strategies when it is not a box that needs to be checked so much as a primary tool that allows a brand to imagine itself and its role in customer lives differently. 

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