Branded applications will drive mobile advertising in 2010

 In applications

Ever since Rory Sutherland used the term “branded utility” at an MMA event back in March 2009 when talking about how applications could be used to promote products without having to place banner ads all over them I have been using this phrase when describing what will work in mobile advertising.

Those that have seen me present over the last 18 months or so will know that I am not a big fan of the “traditional” (read out dated) approach to mobile advertising where irrelevant and unwanted banner advertising is plastered over your handset.

Rory’s view of this refreshing approach to “mobile” advertising is “Never dismiss branded utility. It’s a lot easier to be repeatedly useful than repeatedly funny”

And he’s so right.

My view is that with the iPhone deployed in decent numbers, coupled with the recent acquisition of Admob by Google, and Apple’s purchase of Quattro wireless, the industry has woken up to the real potential of mobile for advertising and promotion.  However, it must be executed the in a different way to that of internet advertising where banner ads are plastered across the screen.

These two recent transactions have proven to Wall Street and the City that mobile advertising is important – but I believe they are not in tune with consumers who see their mobile as an extremely personal device –and don’t want unwanted “ads” to clutter up their screen.

This is where sponsored applications of as Rory puts it “branded applications” come in.

Rather than pumping ads for mobile games that I will never be interested in all over my wapedia search, I would rather use an application on a regular basis that is useful and saves me time.

If the app happens to be free in exchange for some subtle (or entirely relevant and meaningful) promotion of a company of service, then I am ok with this.


One excellent example of this is the new TimeOut iPhone application sponsored by Smirnoff.  Here, all of this is brought together in 3 parts – let me explain how.

The 3 pieces of the puzzle are TimeOut, Smirnoff and mobile application developer Tigerspike.

TimeOut I understand have been looking to mobilise their extensive library of entertainment content for some time now.

The challenge is to be able to present dynamic, location based and relevant content in a mobile environment.

Smirnoff (owned by Diageo) wanted a way to leverage their “be there” campaign in a meaningful way and connect consumers with their product experience in a relevant context.

Tigerspike (a smart Australian company with a growing presence in Europe and America) brought the two together and developed a really neat (and useful) iPhone app that leverages and presents the TimeOut content in a really easy to find way.  Smirnoff has agreed to sponsor the app meaning there is no price barrier to people downloading and using the app.

Rather than the app being one of those “novelty” apps that have a shorter shelf life than an Xfactor contestant, this one is actually very useful!

Some screen shots are shown below, but in a nutshell, the app provides some useful features such as:

  • Geo-location technology that allows users to view Time Out & Smirnoff recommended activities around their exact position within seconds, complete with event previews
  • Up-to-the-minute recommendations and event information, with functionality to send preferred event picks to friends
  • Functionality to add favourite cinemas, restaurants, venues and areas, allowing users to keep-up-to-date with what’s on in their favourite places


The app is not only an excellent example of how branded utility will be the winner in 2010, but also how forward thinking agencies like Tigerspike can help bring together two iconic brands via a useful mobile application in a commercially rewarding way – and one that provides a useful service to consumers.


Nic Newman, EMEA MD of Tigerspike tells me that downloads and use of the app have exceeded all expectations with 40,000+ downloads in 1 month across 44 countries. Apparently 83% are from the UK and 50% of people who downloaded it are using it every day – impressive stats that prove the app is useful AND sticky.

As a useful additional benefit, the app has actually helped TimeOut improve the way they collect and serve their content to be more mobile friendly.  In addition, because the app has the ability to provide instant feedback and reviews while people are at the venue (via the app), this can serve as a feedback loop for the TimeOut community and will serve to improve the TimeOut content. (see an example of the funky review UI on the left)

Perhaps apps like the TimeOut one will provide the catalyst to agencies and brands that mobile wap banners are NOT the future of mobile advertising and promotion.  Instead, useful applications that fill a need can be sponsored by a relevant brand (and here Smirnoff and live music/pubs/clubs is a natural fit) without annoying the user.

Let’s hope that this is the first of a number of new “smart apps” that leverage all of the benefits of mobility with unique and dynamic content to provide the best possible experience for the end user.

The application can be downloaded for free for the iPod and iPod touch from


While you are here ...



London-based Pragmatic Futurist and former IBM Global Managing Partner, Andrew is a popular and sought-after presenter and commentator on issues around digital disruption and emerging technologies. He is a multiple TEDx & International Keynote Speaker. Watch his speaking showreel here, enquire about availability & fees here or listen to his latest Podcast - "The Pragmatic Futurist Podcast" on your favourite app.

Showing 4 comments
  • blank
    Colchester Design and SEO

    This is very interesting. I seem to be able to filter out banner ads at will whenever they occur on websites. I’d imagine that I’d do the same on the iPhone (I haven’t seen any yet), so would totally agree with you that companies that are *much* more sophisticated than just placing banner ads all over their apps will likely do much better branding wise, and even conversion wise.

  • blank

    good work.
    the ball is def finally rolling on utility now. the recent announcements from Coke and Pepsi re diverting ad/media spend into longer term non-campaign activity being case in point, and thsi will no doubt encourage others who have been hesitant to move on ‘committment’ vs campaign.

  • blank
    Roger Nolan

    I think that although this is a trend we’ll see, it represents a nascent industry rather than the future. Sponsored Mobile apps are analogous to soap operas in the 50s. They will go the same way too as the channels, advertisers and – most importantly – the consumers become more sophisticated.

    Take the Time Out example. As a savvy consumer I would not trust a Smirnoff branded app (and don’t forget Smirnoff is the lead brand here) to give me an unbiased review of a bar than a pure Time Out app. I think this is a great deal for Smirnoff and a pretty short term decision by Time Out.

  • blank

    iPhone app is nice, but what about other platforms? In some countries iphone is not the most popular cell phone. Does it mean that companies should invest in building branded app for ONLY one platform. I think not, I think it’s best to build branded mobile website, that will show nicely on most cellphones. Look here for example it was built by an israeli company

Leave a Comment