Feature: I'm on the Phone!


Chief marketing officers often fall prey to the belief that others are ahead of the queue in staking claims in new media. Two years ago, a CMO might have felt she was missing out on Second Life and hurriedly assembled a virtual storefront there. Around the same time, she would have raced a widget out on the market. In each case, the motivation seems to be able to say, "Yeah, we've got one of those," and appear on top of things. That's not to say checkoff items are inherently worthless. Circa 1995, it probably was a good idea to get one of those site things going on the World Wide Web.

The checkoff item du jour is an iPhone app. Made possible by the 3G-enabled iPhone that Apple introduced in June 2008, iPhone apps have greatly expanded the utility of the mobile phone.

Users can choose from hundreds of apps-many of them free -- that do everything from play games to find local restaurants to act as a 21st century whoopee cushion (the infamous iFart app). It wasn't long -- only a few weeks, in fact -- until a marketer, Bank of America, rolled out an iPhone app. Suddenly, marketers seemed to solve a major problem with mobile advertising: How to get users, the iPhone's (and the iPod Touch's) combined 17 million in this case, to opt in for advertising messages.

As a result, talk to just about any agency or marketer in February 2009 and most of them either have an iPhone app on the market or are contracting with someone to code one up. Why not? They only cost $50,000 to $100,000 to make and the upside is almost unlimited. Kraft even pulled off the feat of getting consumers to pay 99 cents for its iFood Assistant app, which provides recipes for shoppers on the go, usually with a preference for Kraft-created ingredients.

Was iFood a fluke? There are now about 100 branded iPhone apps out there, industry watchers say. They can't all be hits, but are the marketers who are staking their turf now doing so effectively? We looked at a few of the most popular branded iPhone apps that have hit the market. We wanted to see whether they were genuinely useful, if consumers seemed to like them and, in the end, if they had anything to offer other than bragging rights for the CMO. --Todd Wasserman

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