TLDR: The apps sucked! It was too early. Appvertising will return!

In the midst of writing a book chapter on a flight yesterday, I wrote a quick story about Buddy Media and when they were pitching the concept of appvertising. The idea of appvertising was straight-forward: use Facebook applications as a form of marketing. Build the app, then buy ads to drive traffic to the app, and hope that people also shared it. Ultimately it failed (although Buddy Media went on to selling to Salesforce for $700 million or more).

Ultimately I didn’t write about why it failed in my book chapter, however, while listening to Mitch Joel at Content Marketing World this morning, appvertising immediately jumped to mind. Mitch suggested building utilities for consumers rather than traditional push advertisements. He referenced a couple examples including Charmin Sit or Squat as well as Amazon’s Price Check app.

As I heard the pitch from Mitch, I couldn’t help but think “THIS IS APPVERTISING!” So what went wrong and why did Buddy Media and other companies fail at this five years ago? (Side note: it’s somewhat ironic to see this five year cycle between marketing something and it actually gaining traction like Yahoo Pipes). The answer is relatively straight-forward: most of the apps sucked. I recall one app that was done by Intel and was part of a Superbowl ad. It failed because the application was literally a push advertisement and nothing more. It didn’t provide any value.

Five years later we are seeing the same message being pushed yet marketers still aren’t listening. It’s not because they don’t want to know, it’s just they don’t think this way. Creating value is a foreign concept for the average marketer. (HINT: You don’t want to be average). Charmin and Amazon were simple illustrations where value was produced. They are also great illustrations that the line between great products and great ads are rapidly becoming blurred.

Ironically, the people who are much better suited for understanding utility and value are those entrepreneurs who are pitching investors on their mobile app ideas. Also interesting is that the marketing budgets of large brands dwarfs the size of seed stage investments. If the line between digital products and ads are becoming blurred, I can only expect more app development shops to begin churning out utility-focused appvertisements. (And no, I don’t mean this type of appvertising.)