Apps and Advertising

It’s Tuesday afternoon in the office. There’s a disbelieving exclamation from the creative department: “Jeremy Renner had an app?”

Yes. Jeremy Renner had an app. He’s the actor best known for the archer guy in the Avengers, whose main purpose appears to be mysteriously surviving one apocalypse after another despite just being a vanilla human, while inexplicably being the best archer in the world even though he’s clearly unable to use a bow right. Renner developed an app that has since been described as Instagram but for Jeremy Renner fans (Rennites? Renneristas? RenHive?) called Jeremy Renner Official. It’s every bit as bizarre to me to imagine as it is to write this for you. In any case, Jeremy Renner Official trucked around quietly for years and was made by EscapeX, a startup company that makes self-contained apps for stars. These apps were naturally going to be filled by superfans of said stars. Via Wired, which interviewed EscapeX after the incident:

The 500 celebrities—in many cases, an admittedly generous description—who have launched apps through EscapeX have no suppressive algorithms to fear, and options aplenty to monetize. The Renner app, for instance, gave fans the option to purchase “stars,” which vaulted users to the top of some sort of leaderboard of Rennheads. (In his statement announcing the shuttering of his app, Renner declared a refund for anyone who had purchased a star in the last 90 days.) Other celebrity apps deploy a subscription model, or charge extra to unlock bonus features.

The idea is also to give the semifamous a safe space of self-selecting super-stans. Instagram has well over a billion monthly active users; some of them are bound to say mean things. On your EscapeX oasis, though, you can bask in, and profit from, unfettered adoration, even in your lowest moments.

Do people actually need an entire app to prop up their egos? If there’s a demand for it, why not? Besides, it’s hardly going to be the most weird thing that a celebrity has done. By all accounts, the app was pretty lively, with its own community drama, even before the Incident that got Renner to shut it down: for some reason, EscapeX had neglected to make it hard for people to impersonate Renner in the community. You can imagine what sort of trash fire this created, what with people starting to post ‘as’ Renner and talking about porno, among other things. This is why nothing good survives for long on the internet. Soon, the app was no longer a fun space where Renner’s superfans could wait to be told Happy Rennsday on Wednesdays (this was also in fact an actual thing) and it had to go.

That being said, the whole Jeremy Renner Official saga has a few teachable lessons for brands:

  1. Trolls will get to anything: In this day and age, it’s probably better not to put anything participatory out online unless it’s carefully moderated. Or it will go very wrong. Fast.
  2. There’s an app for that: An app could conceivably be made for any brand out there. If there’s the money for it. Whether it serves an ROI, however, is another thing altogether.
  3. The app has to be carefully designed. Assume that the worst could happen, and stand by to fix it if it does.
  4. People will still download apps that are relevant to their interests.

Some Good APPles

There have been cases where brand apps have gone viral. Here are some of the ways:

Offer Free Stuff

When I was in design school, one branded app spread like wildfire. It was Clemenger BBDO’s Hungry Jacks app. After launch, it hit over 265,000 downloads, was in the top spot for apps for days, and in the top five apps for a month. Those are huge results for a branded (read: not social media or a game) app.

For those non-Aussies who are wondering Burger King in Australia, which was renamed to Hungry Jacks due to corporate shenanigans that are too long to detail in a single blog post. You can read about it here though if you’re really curious. The Hungry Jacks app urged people to “Shake & Win”. All punters had to do was take themselves to a Hungry Jacks store, open the app, and shake their phone. The app also included things like nutritional information and calculators and such, but face it, the reason why it was downloaded so much was because of the promise of free stuff. In particular, free chips. You can look at all the social analysis from pundits about how the app gave people a constant reminder of Hungry Jacks and pushed them to go to a store and so on, but let’s get real. If free chips weren’t in the equation, we’re not sure that people would’ve downloaded the damn thing, which had an interface of brushed steel surfaces and red plastic textures.

Make It An Annoying Necessity 

Free wifi in Changi Airport is only available if you find and acquire a coupon from one of their goddamned kiosks, request for an access code through SMS (a data-gathering trap that hardly ever rewards you with said code in time for you to leave the efficient airport) or download the app. This requires a lot of preplanning, given many visitors might not be aware of / visit Changi enough to pre-download this app. Similarly, SingTel’s HiApp is pretty much the least annoying way you can top up HiCards, the popular SIM cards sold to visitors. Forcing people to download your goddamned app in order to access a service that could be easily rigged up to a proper website is not the best way to go, in our opinion, but it’s one way to go about it. After all, it’s not as though there’s a feasible alternative to Changi airport in Singapore.

Make it Actually Useful To Your Audience

In July 2017, the guitar brand Fender released the Fender Play app to critical praise. Via Guitarworld:

Developed over several years with considerable assistance from music educators as well as the developers of successful education apps for other endeavors, Fender Play allows users to choose their own path, including the songs, genres and instruments they want to play, learn at their own pace and track their progress. Bite-sized video lessons enable users to comprehend and master skills very quickly, and most users are able to play their first riffs within the first 30 minutes.

“With Fender Play anyone can pick up a guitar and start learning,” says Fender Digital General Manager Ethan Kaplan. “You don’t have to drive somewhere to take a lesson or have someone come to your home, which is very convenient, but it’s also a good supplement to lessons. Most people view lessons as a chore, but with Fender Play we’re promoting playing guitar as a fun lifestyle, which makes it a lot easier to keep people interested in playing.”

The effort that went into Fender Play was extensive. Mary Keenan, previously with Leapfrog and boasting an extensive background in online and digital education, assembled a diverse group of counsellors from the USC School of Music, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, Musicians Institute, the Berklee School of Music and more to help develop the app’s curriculum.

“We also took a close look at trends in online learning as well as educational strategies,” says Kaplan, “like achievement-based learning and micro-based lessons, which are small lessons that are much more effective than longer lessons. We also got input from instructors that we hired to provide the on-camera content.”

It also provided access to an online community of Fender fans, access to instructors, and to Fender staff. As of the time of this article, the Fender app is on the favourite picks for the App store, and has been called the most comprehensive online guitar tuition course available. At $10USD per month, the app provides Fender with a continuous revenue stream, with 60,000 users as of 2018 with projected growth to 100,000 by 2019 with an aggressive marketing push.

Make it Fun

IKEA Push is IKEA’s fun augmented reality app:

This app allowed people to “virtually place true-to-scale 3D models” in your home, using your phone or iPad. Operating pretty much as a really high-tech IKEA catalogue, the app is beautiful, fun to use, and is sure to trigger an IKEA visit in its users’ near-future. It was an evolution of the company’s previous attempt at an app. Via Wired:

For Charny-Brunet, it was absolutely critical that the Place app didn’t just give a vague idea of what a piece of furniture would look like in a room, but came as close as possible to the real thing. “It’s about reducing the risk that’s inherent with any home improvement you make,” he says. Through a combination of room scanning and 3D modelling, each piece of furniture in Place is almost perfectly in proportion with the real world.

It wasn’t just the look of the furniture that had to be right, but the sound. When a piece of furniture lands on the floor in Place, it lands with a little thud and a touch of haptic feedback. Those thuds were designed by the Swedish sound studio Plan8, who recorded the sound of a foley artist hitting a wooden board and then edited them so they fit the size and weight of the piece of furniture being dropped in the app.

Making use of IKEA’s vast in-house stock of 3D models, the app was a critical success. It was the second most popular ARKit app in 2018 – an achievement, given that most ARKit apps are games. While IKEA Place is no longer the only AR app of its type out there, the app ties in to its core business in a fun and accessible way.

In Summary

Looking to create an app for your business? Keep in mind:

  • Do you really need one? Apps are expensive things to create, and getting people to download a brand app can be difficult.
  • Do you have a “hook” or incentive for people to download your app?
  • Do you have the budget to push it into the world with some targeted marketing?
  • Do you have a specific need in your business that the app will address, vs a well-designed website?

All these should be preliminary considerations for you before you get into the app business. Still interested? We can help you out. Get in touch.

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