Zippo has been the case study for how to create a popular brand application for the iPhone. Now, the company hopes to turn that popularity into a new revenue stream.
The 78-year-old lighter brand has launched an in-app store that carries a line of skins for its Virtual Zippo Lighter application that will set back iPhone and iTouch users 99 cents. There are 150 premium skins, including imagery from Harley-Davidson, Bob Marley, The Who and Ozzy Osbourne. Zippo plans to add new skins each month.
Virtual Zippo Lighter launched in January 2009 as a simple application that lets users create a digital flame on their screens. It proved particularly popular for use at concerts during what the company deemed the "Zippo moment" of calling for an encore. Since its launch, the app has tallied over 10 million downloads.
While a smashing success for a brand app, Zippo can't definitively say it has increased lighter sales, according to Brent Tyler, event marketing and promotions manager at Zippo. Site traffic has improved, though, he added.
"It's not ideal, but that's the reality," he said.
Zippo is not the first brand to view the iPhone as a business opportunity. Kraft charges 99 cents for the iFood Assistant. Virgin Atlantic has a pair of premium applications: a $4.99 Flying Without Fear app and its recently released $1.99 Jet Lag Fighter.
The success of virtual goods sales on platforms like social gaming and mobile ringtones shows that consumers will shell out for virtual items so long as the price is right, said Jon Vlassopulos, CEO of Skyrockit, the developer that built the Virtual Zippo Lighter. There's no reason brands can't also play in the arena, he added.
"It's a very interesting time for brands to use their marketing dollars to create new IP that's advertising as content," he said. "It can now become a new SKU or product beyond just communications."