While many brands and agencies are “exploring” iPad marketing and considering added-value apps, only a handful have actually made the investment and turned talk into action. I’m proud that our agency, Possible Worldwide, and client, General Mills, came together to produce one of the first and best branded apps in the marketplace. Now, the Betty Crocker iPad App has been nominated for a Webby People’s Voice Award, and I would appreciate your help in giving the combined team the credit they deserve.
The Betty Crocker App Case Study:
Betty Crocker is not just a national brand: She’s a national hero. The sharing and exchange of Betty Crocker recipes and tips between family and friends–and down through the generations–has made Betty the “original social media queen.” General Mills asked us to take this brand trust, recipe knowledge, and need for instruction to a new level by creating one of the industry’s first iPad cookbooks. The Betty Crocker team wanted to “take Betty into the 21st century” by creating a tool that cooks can more effectively use in the kitchen.
The new iPad app makes it easy to find recipes and features a “cook mode” that helps users who are deep into a recipe. We’ve created easy-to-read instructions and clear, enlarged food/meal imagery. We’ve also integrated multiple timers to help cooks stay on top of the tasks at hand, whether it’s boiling an egg or baking a soufflé. The larger screen and innovative gestural interfaces make the Betty Crocker iPad app a visual, as well as practical, aid in the kitchen.
The Betty Crocker iPad app was an instant hit: In its first week, it reached #1 on the free app best-sellers chart (above Netflix and WebMD), and remains a best-seller to date.
How You Can Help:
Voting takes a little more than one click, but please do take the time to register and vote. You might even discover some other great examples of meaningful digital marketing in the process. Here’s how to vote:
You might be surprised to know that most of the award winners come down to just a couple of votes. Last year our Pringles Can Hands banner barely edged out work from Apple and Burger King to win the People’s Voice Award–thanks to your help! So please lend a hand again and put the iconic red spoon on top.
Just in case you just crawled out of a cave, October was Breast Cancer Awareness month. A bevy of brands painted their products pink to draw awareness and raise funds to the issue–including everything from packaged goods to vacuums to the National Football League. My job is to notice companies’ efforts to create meaningful marketing like these tie-ins, and it is also to watch for examples of companies’ clever use of digital technology to bring it to life. So I had to pull over and get out of my car (literally) when I saw this billboard for ConesfortheCure.org a few weeks ago. While certainly clever, this example unfortunately shows how some companies are making basic mistakes with new technology, even when using it for good.
As you can probably tell, this particular billboard features a QR Code in the middle. Also known as a 2-D bar code, the role of it here is to access information via a mobile device. Here’s how it works: First, you must have a smartphone. Second, you download a QR code reader. I personally use this one, but there are many of them and they seem to work similarly. Then you open the reader app and take a photo of the QR code. When it works correctly, you are taken to some kind of content–usually a mobile-friendly webpage.
Confused and exhausted yet? I thought so. You see, QR codes are smart in theory–they can allow you to quickly and easily go to mobile content without having to type in a website on your phone’s browser. But as you might start to notice in my description, problems abound. Here are some of the issues in QR codes overall and in this execution in particular:
Most people still don’t know what the heck QR codes are.
Most people still don’t have a smartphone or a QR code-reader app.
It’s not easy to scan QR codes when you are driving a car. In this case above, I had to literally pull over on the side of the road, activate my hazard lights, and walk up closer to get my reader to work.
The result is not that impressive. In the example above, the mobile page below was pulled up, offering me the chance to fill out a form, to receive an email, to click to get a webpage coupon to bring in for a free scoop of ice cream.
I would venture to say that very, very few of these billboards were scanned. People don’t have time to do what I did, and the vast majority simply drive by; possibly some notice a funny symbol and then they go on about their lives. It is unfortunate, because the “Cones for a Cure” idea by my beloved Graeter’s Ice Cream brand is a great example of meaningful marketing. But by rushing to try out this new technology, the brand has hurt the impact of the program.
Instead, why not just use the billboard to do what billboards do best: In big words write something like, “Free Scoop when you say ‘Cones for the Cure’” this month at Graeter’s.” Crazy-simple, I know; but it just might work. This is the kind of thing that a commuter in her car might actually notice and remember. No need to go through 10 steps to make a difference and engage with consumers. Or if you want to make people work a little bit to get the free scoop, abandon the QR code process and just ask people to email a photo of the billboard. This is much easier, safer, and more effective. For example, check out this Cannes Lion-winning example from James Ready beer:
New mobile tools and technology are great and very promising, but I fear that companies such as Graeter’s that jump in without thinking things through will end up frustrating themselves and their customers. To be meaningful, marketing must have more than a great idea in the center–execution is everything.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how mobile advertising is failing to work for either consumers or marketers, and today I wanted to quickly share another example of how it is falling down in other places.
As a frequent traveler, I have really enjoyed the Weather Channel app for my new iPad. It has a beautiful interface that quickly allows me to pull up local weather conditions, forecasts, and a predictive radar map. In fact, the app is much better than the Weather Channel website, which is cluttered with ads and links. However, its iPad app advertising model is cloudy, and I don’t see the forecast getting much better.
Naturally, the Weather Channel is trying to turn its app into an advertising medium, and it includes a marketing message on the loading screen and an ad unit in the lower left-hand corner of the local conditions page. However, there are a few obvious problems that should turn off marketers and consumers alike: First, I have been getting the same ad for the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe ever since I first downloaded the app. It is pretty obvious that The Weather Channel either has had no other advertisers embrace its iPad app, or the Cadillac brand dumped a ton of money to buy up the inventory in an effort to “own” this new channel. Either way, it’s a waste of their money and my time.
The second problem is that the ad itself feels very heavy-handed and simple-minded. As you can see from the screen shot above, the same “Perfect Conditions” ad unit is displayed no matter what the weather forecast is. Whether it’s beautiful and sunny or rainy with flood warnings, it’s always “perfect conditions” for a CTS-V Coupe! Both Cadillac and The Weather Channel would have been smart to have a few versions of the banner creative that actually change based on the weather conditions you pull up. For example, if the rain is pounding, the ad unit could describe a safety feature of the car. Just acknowledging the current forecast adds relevancy, which rewards the user and increases the likelihood of action.
The heavy-handedness continues in the links under each day’s forecast–note the “Perfect conditions for a dream drive” repeated three days in a row, again, no matter what the forecast is. This was obviously something The Weather Channel threw in to make the Cadillac team feel even better about its media buy; however, it is irrelevant for the user and looks lame. This makes one remember that checking the weather does not mean someone is in the mind-frame to start exploring new car options.
Yes, it’s still early for this new medium and over time improvements are likely. However, there really is no excuse for this ad overload out of the gate. The Weather Channel should not make the same mistakes on the app that it has made on its website; and if Cadillac is the only advertiser, then use the extra impressions to advertise new cable channel shows or explain in-app features. Finally, Cadillac should take the time to try something new and relevant in this new medium, rather than repeating the same, tired single banner ad.
And so another personal venture into the new is complete. Following in the footsteps of services such as Second Life and Pointcast, I have now decided that Foursquare is no longer for me. It has gone down a personal “hype cycle” in my life–going from interesting to integral to ignoble in just a few months. Where once I was checking in with glee and sharing my whereabouts with new collections of friends, now I’m moving on with life and onto Facebook Places. My personal journey is one that others have also reported, and I think a look into why Foursquare worked for a while, and how others continue to be a part of my life, shows a path to meaningful platforms.
What I Loved About Foursquare
I got into Foursquare big-time back in March 2010 during the annual SXSW event. I attended with a small group of Bridge people and we had fun checking into new places and tracking each other’s locations around Austin. I was immediately attracted by the fact that you could walk into a restaurant and find a digital trace of other people who had been there in the months, days, or minutes before. The app allowed me to share my experience with Facebook friends and Twitter followers, and I was delighted by the chance to earn fun badges. And as a digital marketer I also saw firsthand the promise of location-based services.
Over time I tried to build Foursquare into my routine around town. I would meet people for a drink at a bar and excuse myself to check in, and I would dutifully add new locations to the service in order to “get credit” for my appearance. As a digital marketing consultant, I also began to speak glowingly of the possibilities of this new service
Where It Fell Apart
But soon the bloom came off the Foursquare rose for me. The first negative came in my attempt to work with the company on behalf of some of our very large clients. Phone calls went unanswered and scheduled phone calls ended with me sitting on the line waiting for their side to pick up. I quietly advised my teams and clients to wait until the company got its act together before we went further down this road. As a user, I also started doubting the value of this once-cool toy. I began to hear stories of people getting burglarized when they were not home, and my wife wondered why I was telling the world when I was out of town and she and my girls were alone. The “Honey, I need to understand what’s new in digital because it’s my job” excuse goes only so far, especially when there is no real utility in Foursquare at the end of the day.
And here we come to the real issue: There is no clear reason to install and use Foursquare. It is a toy that entertains for a few days or weeks, but at the end of the day there is no reason to make this a habit. Hardly any stores or restaurants pay attention to the service by, say, offering free offers with check-ins. The mayorships and badges seem silly after a while. And your friends tend to get tired of seeing where in the world you are.
Meanwhile, Facebook has come into location services with something that works much better. You can utilize your current friends list rather than starting from scratch with a new network, and check-ins can link directly to the Facebook pages of where you happen to be. Stores and restaurants can do marketing on their Facebook pages and offer information or special deals. Foursquare is still figuring out how to build a business and service users and marketers. But Facebook has this down already.
The Lesson: What New Apps Need to Succeed
In looking at a wide range of new digital services, I believe some patterns begin to develop. And the biggest one that I see right now, across everything from mobile apps to social media services, is that success comes in degrees based on whether the new company has the following:
The Toy Factor — When people can download your app, try something new, and show their friends you have yourself a great “toy.” Foursquare is a toy. It has novelty, a link to the real world, and some games including the chance to earn badges. This is enough for people to download and play with for a few days or weeks, but it won’t last forever. The gang at Foursquare is still keynoting conferences and now has some investment dollars, but I believe the time has gone. The company should have built these next two factors into their initial design.
A Valuable Tool–Once past the toy factor, your app needs some kind of useful service in order to succeed. Facebook, for example, started out for most of us as a clever toy that allowed us to play with self-expression. But many of us started using the service to communicate regularly with our friends. And because it was so useful, we built it into our daily habits and rituals. Foursquare could have created a simple way for retailers to communicate with the people checking into their businesses. Or it might have been launched with a focused purpose of helping people find money-saving offers on the places they visit. Now an app called Shopkick is showing it the way in this direction.
Meaningful Marketing Model–Here’s where a lot of services have still not cracked the code, and where there is still tremendous opportunity for today’s start-ups. For marketer-supported services, you need a business model in which the advertising itself adds value to the service. Facebook is a great tool, but it still hasn’t shown that the little-seen ads on the right-hand side can drive marketers’ business. The best example of success here is Google and its AdWords service. The company started with a new search algorithm based on human link sharing. This was immediately a new “toy”–and because the results were so much more accurate, Google became a valuable tool. When the company created an advertising model based on search, everything came together; Google search ads are relevant to the searcher, and the marketer pays only when a desired action takes place–so there is a win-win-win that has created a +$20 billion business for Google.
I’m obviously simplifying the world of digital services and apps here, but I think this list helps to put a lot of things competing for our attention into their place.
Like a lot of people in the digital marketing industry, I’ve spent a lot of time looking ahead into new advertising formats to help my team and clients understand where the future might take us. Mobile is one specific area that has taken a lot of my attention lately. Starting with the iPhone, we have seen how a well-designed device, fast (3G) connection, and app development/download platform have done for mobile users what broadband did for Internet access. Consumers are used to upgrading their mobile devices rapidly, and the draw of smartphones is expanding rapidly. Nielsen recently projected that U.S. smartphone penetration will surpass 50% in 2011.
Naturally, with the growth in users and their use, marketers want to connect with consumers, and big and small companies alike are jumping in to fulfill this new need. Google and Apple are at the center so far, with an ecosystem of technology startups and traditional marketers leaning in to play ball. But their approach so far is much different, and shows some of the challenges of launching a new marketing platform with meaning. I wanted to take a few minutes to explore their choices and differences so far.
Google Mobile Advertising
Google got in recently with its purchase of AdMob, a company that has worked with many common apps to place ad units onto the screen.
Google has applied its $20 billion-a-year AdWords model to the mobile space by creating a simple, self-service advertising process that allows big and small companies alike to put ads on the market in minutes.
These ad units can be served according to location, fit well with the existing measurement services that companies already use Google for, and results can be compared easily across platforms.
The consumers’ experience is pretty poor at a “moment of truth” when ads start to appear on their favorite apps. Because anyone can advertise on Google Mobile for pennies, it will attract some of the worst advertisers in the market. Chegg textbook rentals are relevant for a tiny percentage of Pandora users, and several friends of mine have been served an “Are you the father?” banner ad.
There is no room for creativity in the platform so far. The simple text ads look starkly poor when placed within some of the best apps, such as Pandora. Such companies are ceding their precious pixels to ad units that degrade the experience for their users. Is it any wonder that I recently saw the ad below on Pandora, advertising its ad-free model–and this banner looks a lot better!
Apple’s iAd Platform
Apple, too, got into the mobile marketing game by buying another company. It acquired Quattro Wireless earlier this year to get into the game. However, its approach has been entirely different from Google–befitting a company that trademarked the expression “Think Different.” The company announced that it was shutting down Quattro’s existing business and putting all of its developers into building out a completely new iAd marketing platform. While Google/AdMob tacked on something quickly to its existing business, Apple is taking time to do for mobile marketing what it has done for laptops, MP3 players, and mobile devices.
The actual ad units are rolling out slowly, but are rich media that is designed to take advantage of the unique properties of the iPhone and iPad platforms. You can see from the video below in which Steve Jobs shows a couple of mockups of ads for Toy Story 3 and Nike.
Apple is ensuring that only large, committed advertisers are getting into its new platform. It is inviting a handful of big, mass marketing spenders such as Unilever, Disney, Nissan, and Citigroup. It is also forcing the companies and their agencies to work through Apple’s development process. This means that when you see in iAd for the first time, it will probably be something relevant and special.
If you have an iPhone or iPad, have you seen an iAd yet? Didn’t think so. Because of Apple’s high standards and long production and approval process, there are only a handful of these in the wild to date.
There are many other issues with the tightly controlled iAd platform. For example, it doesn’t tie in to existing measurement tools, the ads are non-standard, and the spending commitment and cost-per-click is high for an unproven media.
As you can see, the two companies’ approaches are virtual mirror images of each other. The strengths of one are the weaknesses of the other, and vice versa. But to borrow from an expression I heard in my first job sacking groceries at Kroger, I think Apple is working hard while Google is hardly working. As a company, Google has made its fortune by creating a simple advertising unit that works extremely well when paired with search–an activity in which the advertising itself can be useful at a key moment when people are looking for the right place to go. But Google had not been able to apply this model to its other tools such as Gmail and Google Docs, in which people are using the software for other purposes. In these spaces, the AdWords are mainly an irrelevant distraction. I see the same in its mobile platform so far.
I like the fact that Apple is working harder to make a more powerful, meaningful advertising platform. I have argued in the past that it will face many struggles, but I like the idea that the company is taking the longer-term view and trying to define a better way ad model. It is not choosing the easy path of slapping on an acquisition or an existing model just to be “first” in the marketplace. I still believe that most marketers should develop actual, added-value apps themselves versus buying interruptions on the iAd platform, but I am encouraged that Apple is thinking differently and putting its thoughts into real action.
Special Author’s Note: If you have read down this far, you are likely a regular reader and enjoy this content. If so, you probably noticed that I’ve cut back the number of posts I write each week–dropping down from three posts per week to about one. This is intentional and will be the pattern going forward. I love blogging, but have got some other big, Marketing-with-Meaning-related projects that are forcing me to cut back on new content. Plus, I’ve really found that Twitter is a much better place for me to share thoughts, links, and insights in a way that is easier for me to share and for you, dear reader, to consume. Thanks for your readership and understanding!
A little more than a week ago I purchased an iPad. Typically I am an early adopter for tech toys such as this for a few reasons: First, in my job as strategy leader of a digital agency, my team and clients are eager to hear our take. Second, I am always looking for tools that will help me be more effective and/or efficient in what I do for a living. In this case I have been increasingly feeling the limitations of my laptop, especially when I want to, say, show a few slides or websites to a client over breakfast or lunch; the last thing you want to do in those situations is haul a heavy bag around and wait 10 minutes for the thing to power up and down. But I was really most interested in purchasing an iPad to understand for myself whether this promising/hyped new category of devices would be dominated by the old, interruptive model of advertising or start with a platform for Marketing with Meaning. And after a few days of use I can safely include that the latter is the case.
So far, the interruptive model for iPad advertising seems to be moving quickly up the hype cycle. Some people actually believe that this will—finally!—be the year of mobile advertising, even before Apple got into the game. Apple is preparing to launch its own advertising network for iPhone and iPad apps with special creative formats, dubbed iAd. It has raked in $60 million in commitments already from some of the biggest brands in the world who want to test it first, including Unilever, AT&T, Sears, State Farm, and Disney. The hope is that millions of app developers will earn a living out of turning a percentage of their mobile pixel space over to new ad networks and wait for the money to roll in—and marketers can reach people closer to where and when they actually pull out their wallets to buy stuff.
But a few of us are warning that mobile advertising is not necessarily the next big thing. Along with many others elsewhere, I wrote in this blog back in May about the limitations of iAd as an advertising option. The Wall Street Journal blog recently featured an interesting quote from Kevin Ryan, former CEO of online-ad company DoubleClick: “The answer that people want to hear is that mobile is going to be huge.” “The People” obviously means investors who hope to sell their mobile-ad companies to the highest bidder. But it also includes the largest advertisers in the world—who are watching TV commercial ratings and print subscriptions sink and know that they need to figure out a mobile solution quickly.
The central challenge, however, is the lack of “scale” in mobile marketing. At the end of the day, traditional advertisers such as the big names above depend on an interruptive model in which many millions of eyeballs are exposed to a short message in hopes that some small percentage leads to a sale. Just because they long for this scale does not mean it will actually arrive. There are already too many ad impressions to compete with, too many media options for consumers, and too many mobile-phone platforms to allow for such scale.
The alternative choice for mobile—and advertising overall—is Marketing with Meaning. In mobile devices this looks like creating value-added apps that a smaller percentage of people download (as compared to mass interruptions), but because the brand engagement is so much superior, this small group buys products and services at a much higher rate, over a much longer time period. This is the bet being placed by brands as diverse as Charmin (public restroom finder), Nationwide (car accident guide), Starwood (loyalty points tracker), and REI (ski report). The Gilt Groupe, a high-end online retailer, is now seeing 10% of its sales come from the iPhone and iPad. The reason? A killer interface made specifically for these platforms, and a business that has great deals for a limited-time only—i.e., if you wait to log on at your desk to check out the specials they might already be sold out.
Now to my handful of impressions after using an iPad for a few weeks:
First, the device is exceeding my expectations. I do love it! I expected to have a tool that would allow for easy reading of email, books, and websites, as well as something simple for presenting slides. It does that more than adequately, and so much more. The keys to greatness lie in a brilliant piece of hardware. The device is thin, lightweight, features an incredible screen quality, responds well to the touch, and you cannot beat the easy on/off button. This is really what computing should be about in 2010, rather than the endless boot-up of bloatware operating systems and unknown creatures in the taskbar bin. With this platform and basic OS, the possibilities for developing apps that make best use of it are limitless. So far I’m loving Netflix, Kindle, The Weather Channel, TweetDeck, and GoodReader. And I’m now reading the paper newspaper again thanks to USAToday and WSJ apps. So many great apps and we’re only in the first couple of months of this thing, folks!
The “magazine” model of advertising is weak. I have downloaded a few magazines such as Wired and Esquire to test what this experience is like. Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, talked at an Ad:Tech speech a few months ago about how his company was betting heavily on the iPad and promised to have many cool bells and whistles in its digital version. I also checked out Esquire on an app called Zinio that lets you subscribe to digital editions of many popular magazines. At Ad:Tech, Anderson was excited about the fact that people would be “forced” to flip past each full-page ad in his virtual magazine. (See more on his speech here.) In my experience, the iPad magazine reading is fine, but I hated having to swipe past each ad. This is a worse experience than a physical magazine, which you can simply shuffle past quickly. In this case you’re likely to get a finger cramp with the number of ads crammed in! Again, maybe people notice such ads in the short term because this is a novel experience, but after a while we will all just tune out another piece of unwanted clutter.
Improved websites might eliminate the need for apps. What I mean here is that the Web-surfing experience with the iPad is so strong (despite the lack of Flash) that you might not need to develop apps to provide similar value to users. For example, I considered buying the ESPN app for iPad, but then I just pulled up ESPN.com on my iPad’s Safari browser. The latter experience was outstanding because the network has built a site optimized for iPads. So there’s no need for the $4.99 app. Remarkably, this is something I have not heard in relation to the launch of the iPad. It could be a threat to Apple’s desire to “control” the user experience for its own profit, as there is no need to purchase or download a special app. For consumers, it means you skip finding/downloading/updating apps. We are already working on making iPad-ready adjustments for some of our clients.
Despite marketers’ desire to make the mass/interruptive model work in mobile, and Steve Jobs’s record of overturning and improving business models, my advice to brands is to create an app (or an optimized website), not an ad buy, as a way to connect with consumers on the iPad. There are simply too many challenges of making an interruption pay out—and too many opportunities to delight people by creating added value on the iPad platform.