iPhone Apps Put Brands in Hands

The iPhone is a cultural icon of the digital age. Apple’s “There’s an app for that” slogan in commercials is even repeated both as a punch line and a nod to the ubiquity of new applications on the so-called “Jesus phone” platform.

Many top brands have tested its waters. Coke has two iPhone apps, as does Nike. Procter & Gamble has several, including Tide’s Stain Brain, which helps consumers find ways to remove stains. All are searching for the secret formula that will unlock the promise of mobile marketing: a utility or piece of entertainment that is with consumers at all times.

Like any new channel, efforts have been a hit-and-miss affair. The mantra, however, has remained the same: “utility.” In the mobile space, brands, it’s believed, must provide something of value. Lancome and its mobile shop, Publicis Groupe’s Phonevalley, use the iPhone to help women in the aisle choose makeup. Last month, it rolled out an app that lets users mix and match makeup from its Aaron de Mey collection. Zippo scored one of the first iPhone hits with a dead simple application that offers utility through entertainment. The Virtual Lighter simply gave users a digital representation of a lighter, marking a new way to signal for an encore at concerts. The app is still one of the platform’s most popular selections.

Brands face an uphill battle getting noticed in the iTunes App Store, which now boasts over 100,000 applications. It’s similar to their challenge on Facebook, only worse because brands do not have a beachhead like they do with their Facebook pages. That’s meant few non-digital brands have cracked the most popular apps (ranked by number of downloads). These include Target, Disney and Walmart, which rank in the top 50 free apps.

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