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February 04, 2009

Are Applications Advertising? - Examining the Nike+ Online/Real World Experience

Nike

"I do not regard advertising as entertainment or art form, but as a medium of information."

- David Ogilvy

In one of those moments of sublime serendipity, I recently received my Nike+ kit on the same day that I read a post by gaming industry advisor Keith Boesky excitedly documenting his achievement of reaching the 4,000 mile mark, as well as another post over at AgencySpy about the Nike work at R/GA. The intersection of the three made me think about the relationships between and relative value of advertising and applications, as experienced by individuals in defining their relationship with a brand.

If you already know about Nike+ and want to skip the background info in this rather long post and get to the core of the discussion, jump down to the subhead “Thinking About the Value of Application vs. Advertising.” Otherwise, some background on Nike+ and what these blog posts said that “got me thinking.” 

Nike+ Background

The Nike+iPod Sports Kit is hardware and software that enables you to measure and track the distance and pace of a walk or run (and as of this summer your workouts on some gym cardio equipment). A small accelerometer device is attached/embedded in certain Nike shoes and it communicates with some iPods during runs.  Software then enables that workout data to be uploaded to the Nike+ community website during an iPod sync.  Through the website, challenges can be issued (aka trash-talking) and awards for goals set and obtained.  Over 100 million miles have been logged on the system by over a million runners, half of those miles were accrued in the 8 months between February and October 2008.   That’s a lot of miles and a very engaged community.  Who wouldn’t want that?

Keith's Experience

From his post, Keith is an enthusiastic runner and goal setter.  Every time he runs, he now has a positive and highly personal brand experience with Nike that often inspires him to think about other achievements and learning’s in life (not just the run data that he is accumulating).  That’s a valuable personal and emotional connection for a brand to have earned with an individual. 

“I passed the 4,000 mile mark today with my trusty Nike +. I knew I was going to do it with this run, and I was excited to plug my iPod in to confirm my achievement. When I passed the last milestone, at 3,000, it was the highest category, I was certain I leveled to the highest class. When I plugged it in, I was taken back 22 years to Mount Fuji…”


The Post at AgencySpy re Nike+

This is what I read on the same day about the RG/A Nike+ work that made me think about the relationship between Advertising and Applications and the respective value of each. This is in the words of their unnamed “spy on Nike+ at the agency,” and to me clearly reflects a bit of an old school agency perspective as the inferred benchmark of “goodness” being “is it advertising?” (NOTE: The underlines that follow are mine.)

"It's a great piece of digital work, and it helps to build the brand, but it's an application, not really 'advertising'. That doesn't mean it should be dismissed, cuz it's clearly awesome but you can't build a brand on an app. I can't take an app and air it on tv or in a magazine or on a billboard. I can use those media to drive people to the app, but that builds the app, not really the brand."


Thinking About the Value of Applications vs. Advertising

What's Advertising?
(1) From the quote that started this post, David Ogilvy says that advertising is information.

(2) Wikipedia says advertising is:

“…communication that typically attempts to persuade potential customers to purchase or to consume more of a particular brand of product or service … through the creation and reinforcement of "brand image" and "brand loyalty".”

(3) I’ll add one more thing to the definition, you have to pay someone to place advertising for you in places where people will be likely to see it – whether it’s a banner ad, a billboard, a radio spot, an interactive retail screen, the back of an athlete’s uniform or a multimillion dollar SuperBowl buy.

What’s a Brand?
We need to understand this if brand is what advertising is supposed to help define and build. (NOTE: The underlines that follow are mine.)

“Brand: a person’s perception of a product, service, experience or organization.” – AIGA’s The Dictionary of Brand

A “person’s perception” is about “emotional connection,” and that connection is informed by some mix of interpreted facts, personal feelings and experiences, shared “third party” experiences of others of personal influence/recommendation (delivered thru traditional media, tweet or blog), and expectations of things to come.

5 Evaluation Factors
From the definitions of brand and advertising above, 5 main factors of evaluation for “Application v Advertising” can be drawn. (Thanks to blogger friend Michael Markman for his feedback here.)

  1. It can facilitate some level of brand experience/perception before any direct experience or purchase of the brand product itself.
  2. Overall goal is to persuade to initial purchase or continue to buy more.
  3. You have to pay an "expert" (agency media buyer) to place it (professionally created content) before an audience.
  4. It is designed to create and reinforce brand image and/or brand loyalty to those who have already purchased.
  5. It can contain both factual information and emotional context that comes from individual interpretation as well as that from their influencers.

Here’s how the Nike+ application plays out when evaluated by these 5 factors

  1. It enables some level of brand experience/perception before any purchase of the brand product
    • Even though you can’t directly experience Nike+ without purchase, you can experience what other enthusiasts and influencers (who you may personally know – even better) say about it – as in the case of me reading Keith Boesky’s 3,000 mile blog post before starting to use my new Nike+
  2. Overall goal is to persuade to purchase or consume more
    • With Nike+, unless you loose or break the hardware, you are probably not going to personally purchase more, but you are going to persuade others to purchase – growing the market none-the-less.
  3. You have to pay to place it before an audience
    • You pay to develop the site and application, but that’s it – you own the end product and community.  It is not an outflow of cash to another entity.
  4. It is designed to create and reinforce brand image and/or brand loyalty to those who have already purchased
    • Enough said.  You are immersed in the Nike brand world with the community and application – reinforcing the message of individual initiative and achievement with group comradery and even “trash talk.”
  5. It can contain both factual information and emotional context that comes from individual interpretation as well as that from their influencers
    • The facts – your stats of distance, time and frequency.  The emotion – talk and challenges from others in the community to drive you on to better performance.

What the Application Has That Advertising Does Not

There are two key ingredients that Application has that Advertising does not – in terms of the value of building the relationship with Brand.  For this Nike+ application:

  1. There is a completely personalized experience – hence more meaningful information AND emotional connection.
  2. It can be solitary/omni- directional (as with advertising) or a shared (two-way) community experience depending on the user’s choice.
  3. The results of people/the community using the application could be taken into other media for pure distribution (eg mobile alerts for getting latest challenges or updates of teammates’ running), or in creating new experiences or content, such as a show about the experience of people on 5 different continents forming a virtual Nike+ running team.

So What's the Point?

Applications are both information and emotion - even more so than “traditional” advertising.  So let’s go back to the excerpt from AgencySpy and do some deconstruction:

  1. “… it's an application, not really 'advertising.'
    •   Yes and that’s where its additional value comes from.  Advertising should no longer be the baseline of effectiveness goodness for engaging an audience.
  2.  "...you can't build a brand on an app...”
    • Maybe only if you are Google, or we could name a few others in Silicon Valley  You can certainly build with both application and advertising.  Some brands initially built their value with no advertising (Starbucks).
  3. “I can't take an app and air it on tv or in a magazine or on a billboard."
    • Debatable these days about the value of some of these media; but you could actually take the result of the community content that comes from the app and make content/stories to be distributed by those media.  Current TV integrated application and broadcast with Twitter streams and the presidential debates.
  4. "I can use those media to drive people to the app, but that builds the app, not really the brand."
    • Not really – the information and emotional experience of the Nike+ app that these people experience on every run and share with a community of over a million people IS the brand experience

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Liz Gebhardt


  • © Amanda Jones
    Digital and traditional (live & broadcast) media/ marketing strategist and producer living at the intersection of Web meets (live) World. More than two decades of experience in building media and technology businesses, content programming and distribution, brand stories and integrated communications campaigns.

    Believes that strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. Embraces the role of navigator of the uncharted path vs. passenger along the known road.