Feb 20, 2012

J460. Selling a Brand's Story.

I was greeted with an App Counter during today's visit to Apple's site. Above the flickering numbers reads, "The App Store is about to hit 25 billion downloads," and below the number, currently in the 24.47 billion range, reads, "The countdown has started. And someone's going to win." By clicking on the growing number I learn that if I download the 25th billionth app that I could win $10,000 to the iTunes App Store, redeemable for apps, books or music.

I can't fathom what 25 BILLION even means. The number is so far off from anything or group of things I've ever experienced that I'm not even going to try to wrap my brain around it. All I know is that it is a really, really big number. What I don't know is what are people using their apps for. Why are people downloading so many apps? Once people download apps, do they actually use them or do they remain idle on their screen for weeks or months? I currently have 24 extra (didn't come with phone) apps downloaded on my iPhone and I only use 5 of them: Epicurious, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and This American Life. 

What I don't own are apps that were designed by companies to help me find or buy their products. I can't imagine buying Coca-Cola's app, "Coke Drink," that allows me to "show everybody that you can drink one Coca-Cola anywhere, anytime!" The money that was put into this app, which was probably significant, could've been spent on an interactive campaign that would encourage participation and engagement from the user.

Some of the most creative and highly effective interactive engagement hasn't come from apps, but rather from alternate reality games (ARGs). While reading Teressa Iezzi's, The Idea Writers, I learned about the interactive campaign for Steven Spielberg's feature, Artificial Intelligence: AI.

The campaign was called "The Beast" and "drew audiences  into a story via a number of cryptic clues, tiny threads that those who were paying very close attention could grab and use to unravel a narrative across a range of media" (Iezzi p. 47). Many of the clues were delivered during trailers such as the one above, which included a credit for Jeanine Salla, a "Sentient Machine Therapist." Through different web sites and trailers, clues were revealed that worked together to describe a story that intrigued participants. Iezzi describes that "by the time the story had unfolded, it involved 30 web sites, live events, TV commercials, phone calls, texts and newspaper ads" (p. 47).

It seems like this kind of viewer interest and participation couldn't arrive from an app because there wouldn't be sufficient rewards or excitement derived from a single platform campaign.

Many agencies followed AI's model and created large scale interactive, rewarding campaigns that lead to intrigue surrounding the product. Wieden + Kennedy New York later created a fake beta tester named, "Beta 7," to interact with gamers about the launch of SEGA's ESPN NFL Football 2K4 game (Iezzi p. 47). Beta 7 was introduced on game-oriented blogs and sites where he explained that "he was a volunteer beta tester of SEGA Football and was experiencing some troubling after effects" (p 48) from playing a game with such intense violence during First Person Football. When the campaign wrapped there were sites, blogs, and message boards involved. Gamers were talking about it on their own forums and blogs providing free advertising and coverage.

This interactive model has continued with great success with The Blair Witch Project, Dark Knight, Discovery's Shark Week, and True Blood. These campaigns transcended what an app can accomplish and managed to get audiences to fully engage and get enthused about a product before it has even hit the stands.

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