As the app culture evolves, some brands are starting to leverage the format more strategically, not just to promote a specific product or event. Last week Warner Bros. issued the very good “My Friend Scooby-Doo” interactive game into the iOS app store. At $2.99, it is pitched to youngsters, many of whom may not have experienced the rubbery ghost hunter and his iconic elocution. Warner Bros. is owner of the property but does not have a specific TV show upcoming film to promote with this app.
“Initially we saw a gap in our slate of titles,” says Nathan Feldman, director of mobile, Warner Bros. Entertainment Group. “We really want to bring more attention to animated properties. We are bringing them to a new generation of kids. And apps are where the kids are.”
Warner Bros. owns a range of animated properties, from the legacy Loony Tuness to "The Flintstones." The company chose Scooby because it turns out the character has some of the strongest global legs. In some surveys of the most recognizable characters worldwide, Scooby ranks third, Feldman says.
There have been a number of iterations of the franchise over the years, including the introduction of what purist regard as the risible “Scrappy-Doo.” The team decided deliberately to return to the original season, its plotlines and criminals. And this move maps well against the dual audiences for a kids’ app: the kids themselves, and the parents who have to agree to buy it for them. Like sharing a classic board game with your kids, acquainting them with the cartoons of your own youth is a kind of intra-generational bonding that apps can make easy. In this case, the app stayed true to the nostalgia vibe, even using episode titles.
Warner Bros. was not looking to make another branded game. “The mission for this was what if you could really directly interact with the character. We needed to do better than another ‘Talking Tom,’” Feldman notes, referring to the avatar app that makes a cat speak your words. The company worked with developer Genera Games and helped build a 3D interactive model of Scooby that users can pet and have perform a range of actions. As straightforward as the look and cartoon feel may be, the engine here is quite advanced, using the iOS Metal platform to achieve fluid movements and interactions.
Far from a branded knock-off, the team took a year to develop this title. “We kept polishing and adding to it,” Feldman says.
When it comes to ROI, the Warner Bros. team also takes a long view. They don’t expect a blockbuster. “It doesn’t have to be the top app,” Feldman admits. “But I want it to be the beginning of a series of apps like this. It can cover itself and make a profit that helps us put other titles out.”
Warner Bros. has both patience and long reach, so it does not need to buy app promotion media in order to send its title up the charts in the first days after release. Instead it has multichannel reach via its own properties: everything from DVD pack-ins to a Times Square spot running on the Toys 'R' Us “Geoffrey Tron.”
And of course Scooby himself has an astonishing social following of his own: over 26 million Facebook followers. Yes, 26 million.
In both marketing and conception, the Scooby-Doo app is an example of long-ball thinking for the app ecosystem. In this case Warner Bros. is not looking for a quick promotional hit so much as a way to make one of their properties communicate with a new audience.