Stocking Stuffers: Browsing the Mobile Brands

"Why are you at the Mobile Wal-Mart site, Dad?"

Back in the day, you knew the holidays were approaching when your kids started behaving pristinely. For about three weeks between Thanksgiving and the gift-giving holidays, you could expect tables to be set when requested, a moratorium on battles over bedtime, and even an occasional "Can I get you anything?" from the same lips that screamed in toy stores "You never buy me anything!" the other 11 months of the year. But now we are in an age of entitlement, and of course my household is going through teen hell years, so the tone has changed radically. Now, my daughter monitors every digital move, trying to channel me towards her holiday goal.

"I really need a new phone. I killed the keypad on mine." Well, yeah. She would also kill most major body parts if she used them (to set the damned table, for instance) as much as she texts. "I am kind of liking the idea of the iPhone now."

In her dreams. This child has already mistakenly put three handsets through the wash and rinse cycles. She may get a T-shirt that says "I left my phone at..." so she doesn't have to repeat her new tagline five time s day.  I am going to get her an iPhone?

And Wal-Mart, despite rumors to the contrary, does not carry the iPhone. But the mobile site is actually a nicely focused effort at holiday merchandising. Rather than dump the catalog onto the phone, the mobile site expects shoppers to be out and about and looking for bargain gift ideas. And so the site is devoted exclusively to holiday bargains across the major shopping categories. In Electronics, Apparel, Home, etc., the site offers a handful of ideas, low prices and a store locator. I like the site because it identifies with the consumer's plight well and keeps things shallow and quick just when we need the brand to be.

JC Penny's mobile site also runs with the idea-generator concept, but it adds a curious alert service that stands out. They will send a timed "Wake Up Call" to your phone an hour before its stores open at 5:30 a.m. the day after Christmas.I have to admit, offering to wake people up at 4:30 is a counterintuitive brand move, but it does add that little bit of interactive service that maps nicely to the medium.

Target's Mobile Web implementation is a puzzling about-face from its clever but limited iPhone application. The downloadable app that I critiqued here in the past is a snow globe that offers up gift ideas by genders and age groups. The catalog is too slender to be very useful, however. At the mobile site, however, there is too much that is too random. The front page offers little context, just a search box and links into a dozen product categories. There is little service element here, and not much holiday spirit either.

Of all the gift generators I have seen, the newly released Sam's Club Gift Stress Lifter, an iPhone app that does a deep personality quiz with pictures, is a must-see. I invoke the dreaded "utilitainment" moniker here, since the app is as entertaining as it is useful. You can import a contact as your gift recipient or make a new one. Six general personality questions prompt you to highlight three of nine images that best capture your friend's relaxation habits, weekend pursuits, favorite meals, etc. From this evaluation you get a thumbnail personality profile and gifts that actually do seem aimed at their chief attributes.

This is ambitious and fun and a genuinely novel use of the medium. Branded media has a tough line to tow. It must be entertaining enough to grab interest regardless of the brand and yet get across its brand affinity without killing the fun with bald promotion. The Sam's Club app achieves this balance better than any branded app I have seen so far. It is fun and interesting on its own. Sam's gets the halo effect (and maybe even the sale via the direct buy button) without making me feel tricked into playing with an ad.

And the Gift Stress Lifter has the added advantage of not being able to recommend an iPhone for my daughter.

"So, I washed my phones. You washed your iPhone once," she chides me.

And in one of those moments where you can feel yourself struggling to retrieve the words even as they flow from your parental mouth, I said, "There are a lot of things I have done you should never do." 

This is getting bad. They are not just more entitled, they are smarter. My 16-year-old somehow managed to checkmate me in three moves.


4 comments about "Stocking Stuffers: Browsing the Mobile Brands ".
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  1. Chuck Dorris from eDining, llc, December 18, 2008 at 3:29 p.m.

    Wowzer.. too bad the Wal.web.developers didn't try their design on Firefox, where it TOTALLY doesn't work..

    Maybe that was the plan, to keep nasty Firefox-using geeks out of Walmart.

    Yeah, gee, geeks NEVER buy tech!

  2. Charity Zierten from Socially Engaged Apartment Marketing, December 18, 2008 at 3:34 p.m.

    I just quoted your last two sentences on Twitter (@CharityHisle) because I feel your pain.

    I have a 15, 13, and 12 year old. They all have cell phones, and this year they seriously emailed me links to websites for their wish lists. If I got them blackberries or iPhones, I would be insane with the apps they would want to purchase (movies and music too)!

    I enjoyed your post! I actually comparison shop on my iPhone when I'm out and about. I like Cellfire too, for instant savings at the grocery store and local GameStop.

  3. Steve Smith from Mediapost, December 18, 2008 at 3:40 p.m.


    If you comparison shop with your iPhone you should use Amazon's new app, which lets you take a snapshot of any object and let the human search engine match it to something in their catalog.

    Chuck: Funny you should say that. I am just now writing about the brands that actually come off better on mobile than they do on the Web. A lot of the items I discuss above are mobile only.

  4. Barbara Armour from EarthLink, Inc, December 22, 2008 at 2:15 p.m.

    First- fabulous article Steve. I agree that with brands struggling for share of voice mind, eallet et al...that web integration, killer apps and yet another Profit Center ( beats the store circulars) for Wal-MArt is a good marriage for all.
    But our friend Chuck D is correct as well.....sigh...when WILL the marketers realize that Mozilla Firefox is the preferred browser of choice for those in the know....

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