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   April, 2010

It’s a Mad Mobile World

It seems like not a day passes that we don’t talk about the Apple wars.

This week, Steve Jobs wrote an email telling porn fans to get an Android phone. Last week, an Adobe employee blogged for Apple to “go screw themselves.”

Why all the nasty words? Since Apple entered the mobile market with the iPhone, they’ve got the hold on the mobile world, with 51.15 million units since it’s creation, and 8.75 million sold last quarter–their most successful to date. As the Fonzie of mobile phones, Apple’s set the playground’s rules, isolating people who’ve been in the game, and in turn, and creating unhappy days for some.

Apple’s App store has garnered 15.6 million unique views from iPhone and iTouch users. Although Apple has only a minority of mobile users, their popularity is undisputable: over 140,000 apps have been developed with 3 billion downloads in its two years of existence.

With that hold, Apple have been increasingly particular about how Apps are made, and who gets in the club. They’re infamous for having a stringent review process and sometimes rejecting apps for arbitrary reasons. A safeguard for consumers, but a nightmare for some developers who are waiting in the long line to cash in.

Different Flash for Different Folks

One of the biggest scuffles is Apple’s move to flush out Flash, a tool used to enable web videos, on iPhones and iPads. Apple’s iPhone is the only smartphone that isn’t Flash-compatible, making websites that contain Flash-based content inaccessible. CEO Steve Jobs says it’s too slow to be useful for Apple products and opts for HTML5 for video purposes, which doesn’t make Adobe, it’s producer, all too happy.

But in the past few weeks, Apple’s taken it one step farther by banning outside development tools. So Adobe’s new Flash Developer for iPhone a part of CS5 is instantly obsolete, leaving  Adobe to pull the plug.

Despite criticism, Apple stands their ground, easily and understandably: they want to keep their share of the market, and they want it done their way. When criticized as being a walled garden, Jobs responded that “…intermediate layers between the platform and the developer ultimately produces sub-standard apps and hinders the progress of the platform.”

Google is taking the polar opposite approach, working cross-platform and wooing developers. So far, they’re growing at a faster rate with 25,000 apps since its inception, and 9,000 apps in March alone. Oh, and they’re Flash-friendly: in late 2010 Android phones will become enabled with Adobe Flash 10.1 and Air 2.0, and the two companies are rumored to work together on the upcoming Chrome OS. Google has an open arms approach compared to Apple and it’ll be interesting to see the alliances and innovations that develop.

Alternative Solutions

In February, the world’s 24 largest wireless carriers announced a collaboration called Wholesale Applications Community, which aims to wants to “unite a fragmented marketplace” making it easier for mobile app developers to create applications that would work across multiple carriers, devices and operating systems.

The new consortium includes Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint as well as the biggest international providers in countries like France, India, Britain, China and Brazil. Phone developers LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics and Sony Ericsson voiced their support. This collaboration will tap into a three billion user market currently untouched by Apple. How they’ll wrestle in customers and developers is yet to be seen.

Microsoft is playing a whole different game. They recently unveiled the Kin One and Kin Two, two phones that bring information from a user’s social networks onto the phone and eliminating third-party apps. So instead of downloading an application to view what your friends are doing on Twitter, Facebook and Myspace, the user has it all there on their homescreen, an innovation definitely worth taking a look.

Inside Apps: Advertising

The mobile world is evolving as more people obtain increasingly smarter phones and larger mobile devices, it’ll be a constant race to see who can own the playground. The iPad’s popularity was unprecedented, with 500,000 units sold the first week. Google is rumored to soon have its own version.

And with that, the two technology giants will again compete for another faction of apps: advertising. Google’s acquired AdMob after Apple’s failed attempt. However, Steve Job bought up Quattro Wireless and introduced iAd, Apple’s own advertising platform that will offer rich in-app advertising.

When it comes to mobile development, open-source and collaboration between carriers, phone devices, operating systems is ideal for reaching the most users. The International Telecommunication Union estimates that there are 5 billion mobile subscribers this year. Mobile is the way to connect to people, so the key is to make applications that would work on any device or carrier. It’s not just about Apple or Android, but developing content accessible to the most mobile consumers possible. Can’t we all get along?

HCR Recap

Revolution Messaging was honored to work with Health Care for America Now, the largest coalition of organizations fighting to make quality, affordable health care a right for everyone in America. With so many people in this country in dire need of health care reform, as well as many of our friends and family members, this fight was a personal one.

Our focus when working with HCAN was building a mobile program and interactive voice tools to help with both advancing their message and promoting grassroots action.  In addition, we provided an online advertising strategy that focused on experimenting with a wide variety of advertising inventory and landing pages.

Now that the first set of major reforms have become law, it’s important to summarize the lessons we learned:

Putting SMS Into Grassroots
HCAN’s text messaging program was effective and was more consistent in generating Calls to Congress than any other tool. The reason is simple: SMS open rates are exceedingly high and much greater than other forms of mass communication. In addition, supporters could call their Members of Congress easily with a simple click from their phone – no need to even dial.

Don’t Fear Real-time Metrics
It’s easy to misread metrics. A major strength of new media tools is the availability of real-time results. But premature results can lead to the wrong conclusions, especially when a tactic hasn’t had a chance to make its mark. For example, our Call Congress tool combined with a unique toll-free number helped us to track how well paid media was generating calls to Congress. Initial results were lower than expected, but if we hadn’t tested more thoroughly, we wouldn’t have noticed that the paid media was improving response rates from other forms of communication.

New Media Deepens Interaction
Providing an opportunity for target audiences to interact with you matters. This is true with mobile communications, social media, and online advertising. Our highest-performing online ads gave people an opportunity to interact with the campaign using their personal social media accounts. Providing this forum for activists created a space to share personal testimonials, framing the debate and breathing life into the fight. The #sickofit hashtag is still used as a rallying cry for people sharing their personal health care stories on Twitter.

Online Advertising + Social Media = Value-Add To Traditional Media
Online advertising hasn’t replaced broadcast advertising on TV or radio yet, but it definitely deserves a greater percentage of paid media budgets. We were excited to push the envelope and experiment with many new forms of online and mobile advertising to build lists and test messaging tactics. Our advertising work with HCAN demonstrated that online ads shouldn’t mimic offline creative. Applying the message to a new medium requires applying it in new ways. What works in print media often needs to be changed to get attention online. We made a big splash around the broadcast ads on TV with a “Google Ad Blast” – one day of heavy online ad saturation on Google with matching “skins” on prominent websites.

New Media Is Counter-Intuitive — Tests Matter!
One of our favorite ad concepts for HCAN was the FAILephant, a GOP twist on the Twitter Fail Whale. We thought it was clever and played on a communications tool that was generating a lot of media buzz already. The FAILephant ad buy underperformed against our expectations. While the FAILephant will always have a place near and dear to our hearts, our tests told the truth. We can’t always predict what will perform the best. A year of running ads offered us a lot of in-depth information about what worked in HCAN’s push for reform and what didn’t. Of course, make sure you give a concept a chance by making tweaks as mentioned in our 2nd point.

Micro-Targeting, Macro-Results
The ability to micro-target and narrowcast easily is a major advantage of online advertising. Want to reach Congressional staff in August while they’re thinking more about their next softball game than about health care reform? Or how about fans of Rachel Maddow who live in Tallahassee? Custom messages increase the chance that users will take action, but a mis-targeted custom message can waste money and turn them off. Using social media profiles, geography and other instantly available data is essential to online advertising planning. Micro-targeting was integrated into all of HCAN’s online advertising plans.

It was an honor to work with HCAN in shaping the fight against private insurance companies who have profited off the old health care system for years while people in need suffer. HCAN’s valiant efforts deserve recognition, especially the members of the new media team we worked with daily. The fact that they were able to hold together the largest progressive coalition in history to enact health care reforms says it all. It was a long fight to get through the first stages of a momentous battle. HCAN has lit the torch and passed it on for us to all to wield in the days and years ahead.