Category Archives: Applications

Target’s In-Store App Promotion Fail

For the longest time Target (the department store chain) has avoided mention in this blog. In fact, I’ve used some of their mobile efforts in presentations to show the way to win (vs. fail) in mobile. Both Target and their mobile partner Deloitte Digital have done fantastic work on their mobile app and mobile site. So I was surprised to find myself standing in a Target store looking at this sign.

image: target in store mobile fail

It’s a simple sign with a clear message but how do I get the app? Are they relying on me to go the app store on my phone (Google Play, in this case), do a search for “target” and download it that way? I guess they are because they’ve provided no more convenient alternative.



What could have saved this experience/campaign?

Well, it isn’t the most egregious fail. I guess the solution is pretty obvious but I’ll spell it out.

1) Give a Call-To-Action
This is what surprises me most about the Target sign. Sure, someone who is really motivated will figure it out. But when you are engaging people in-person tell them what to do. Give them a call-to-action. And in a purely mobile environment such as retail a call-to-action should be short and sweet. Don’t force people to think about how to do something, tell them. And make the process as short and quick as possible. There are some ways they could have made things easier for me:

  • A short URL – something like, “”. This is easy to enter and easy to remember.
  • A code for me to send via text-message – something like “Text TARGET to 28594″. This has the added benefit of providing Target with an opportunity to get me to opt-in to receive their text-alerts.
  •  Maybe a QR code – They’re not dead (as some will claim) and are the fastest way for someone to get your app. Though plenty of people still don’t know what a QR code is or what to do with them, signs like this can be a good place to use them. However, I probably wouldn’t have put one on this sign as it was 8 or so feet off the ground; the code would have to be really big to be scan-able.

2) Put some smarts behind the URl/QR code.
To keep the sign clean and the call-to-action clear you need a QR code or URL that points to multiple app stores.  With a little device detection and redirection a single url can be used by any phone/device with a good resulting experience.

Interestingly, that same day I saw this sign at Home Depot. When you text to the code you get a url the directs your phone to the correct app store. Well done.



GoWallet Forgets That It’s A Mobile App

I was standing in line at the grocery store the other day, loyalty card in-hand, when I saw an image of a mobile phone on a nearby display. On it was printed, “Access Your Gift Cards – anytime, anywhere” (I’m really tired of companies who have anything at all to do with mobile using ‘anytime, anywhere’. In this case, there’s a picture of a mobile phone. I get it.) Then there was a picture of a phone with a few logos on the screen such as Best Buy and Safeway (the store in which I was standing). At first I thought it was suggesting I could load my Safeway card onto the phone, probably because I was actually holding my card.

image: GoWallet Display

I was going to try it (or at least get the app – I didn’t have any gift cards at the time) and impulsively reached for my phone to scan the QR code. But in a brief moment of disbelief that quickly turned into disappointment I found no code to scan.  There was a URL for but it was my turn in line and I had to pay for my things.  I had enough time to scan a code and that was it.


After checking out I looked for an empty check-out isle and found the same sign. I opened the browser on my phone and tapped in After several seconds and a bit of forced patience (is it that hard to make a mobile site that loads fast?) I was offered the following on my screen:

image: GoWallet site


Eh? This can’t be happening. This is a full web site! What am I supposed to do with this? Arrrgh..



What could have saved this experience/campaign?

This multi-level fail needs a lot of work to make it a good mobile experience. It’s surprising that a service that has mobile at its heart is so un-friendly to the mobile user. Let’s start at the top.

1) Call-to-Action – Even with the questions about the long-term viability of QR codes this would have been the place to have one.  For those who know what to do with a QR code it is simply the fastest way to create a connection with the mobile user.  Just putting the URL is not enough. Opening a browser and tapping in URL - even a relatively simple one - is not as fast as scanning a 2D barcode.

2) Mobile Web – The GoWallet web site, whether someone tapped or scanned to get there,  MUST be made mobile-friendly. If for some reason the site can’t be made friendly at least create a landing page that briefly describes the service and allows the mobile user to easily show some initial interest (no-one will complete registration from their phone) by entering their email address or linking to a download of the mobile app.

3) Promote the App – Using basic device detection it is relatively simple to re-direct mobile phones to the mobile app in the appropriate app store. Then, tell them more about the app and the overall service once they are there and only one tap away from a download. Don’t make mobile users read a detailed web site and then hunt around for the link to get the app. Take them to the app, get them to download and walk them through the process.


Angry Birds Ads On Kindle Fire – FAIL

My wife received a Kindle Fire as a Christmas (er, Holiday) gift last year from her employer. It’s been interesting to see what role it plays among all our other devices such as the much larger iPad and the much smaller smartphones. So far its role is one of a time-killer (i.e. games) and list keeper (it’s great for shopping). As far as games go we have many for our 3yr old and one for us older types, Angry Birds by Rovio. Of course, we have the free version(s) of Angry Birds. I may be inclined to pay for it if I could install and use it on any of my devices but as it is I’d need to buy it multiple times. Sorry Rovio.

The free version is ad supported. No surprise there. But there’s a problem with the ads. Many don’t appear to fit. That is, the actual ad is too big for the screen real-estate allocated for displaying it. Here’s what I mean:

image: Angry Birds mobile ad fail 1

Uh, buy one what?


image: Angry Birds mobile ad fail 2

Hmm. Something about avocados at Subway.


image: Angry Birds mobile ad fail 3

At least we know the price on this one. Finally, I tapped one of these misfit ads. What happened next made sense at first; I was taken to the Android Market (now call ed Google Play) – Kindle Fire runs on the Android operating system – where I could presumably download the game. But when I tried to install I only saw my Nexus S smartphone listed in available devices. My Kindle Fire wasn’t listed.

image: Rovio Ad Network Fail

Confused, I just backed my way out and continued playing Angry Birds.

Is this the experience advertisers can expect when placing ads in Rovio games?



What could have saved this campaign?

It’s a little difficult to tell what exactly is going on here and who is responsible for what but here’s what I think is happening: Rovio’s advertising production system doesn’t realize I’m playing on a Kindle Fire and is serving ads designed for Android smartphones. This easily explains why I was taken to Google Play instead of the Amazon apps store. Amazon, like Apple, has created a closed ecosystem for accessing content for the Kindle Fire and you can’t get apps from the Android Market.

It isn’t quite as easy to explain why the ads don’t fit, though. The physical ad space seems about the same as space on the phone version. One of two things is happening: 1) Rovio is up-scaling the ads because the device is larger even though the space is the same or 2) Rovio is serving the wrong version (i.e. size) of the ad. Either way, the process is breaking. And pretty frequently. Nine of the ten different ads I saw were misfits! And I probably saw each ad 3-5 times. Do advertisers realize that 90% of their paid impressions are being wasted on Kindle Fire?

The fix goes all the way back to the advertiser. If, as an advertiser, you know that you have purchased space on the Rovio ad network it is your duty to test those ads on the devices you know it will show up on. Then, hold the ad network/publisher accountable for failures.

What do you think is happening here?

The Bellevue Collection App Promotion Fail

I was recently at the Hyatt Hotel in Bellevue, WA and noticed the following sign as I walked through one of the many passageways and bridges that connect the hotel to the broader shopping experience that defines this shiny, affluent city.

image: Bellevue Collection Sign

It was the image of a mobile phone that caught my eye. (Side note: I feel like the iPhone is the ONLY phone image ever used in promotional materials. I can’t remember ever seeing an Android phone. Ever.) In fact, I actually had my phone in my hand – like a lot of people – and was preparing to try the Personal Concierge app that they were promoting.  Take a closer look at the picture. See if you can figure out how to get the app…..Waiting….


The sign has roughly two messages: one for Belle’s Vue, the fashionista blogger and the other for the mobile app. I see no clear path to downloading the app but there is a URL for the blog, Determined, now, to see just how hard it is going to be to get this app I open the browser on my phone and tap in the not-so-short url. Here’s what I got:

image: Bellevue Collection Blog

Hmm. It’s a blog alright but it sure wasn’t meant for a mobile phone. I was using WiFi and not the mobile data network, fortunately, as the images are pretty high-quality. The links and navigation are far too tiny to tap on. I see nothing about the mobile app.



What could have saved this campaign?

The problems embodied by this campaign really speak to the complexities of mobile as well as the inexperience most marketers have with the medium.

To address the complexity issue there’s no easy way for people to get the app in this case. Even if a QR code had been used – and one should have – it wouldn’t have gone to a site with the smarts to detect the device and re-route the person to the appropriate app market; that would be a sort of mobile nirvana. At best it might have pointed to a simple mobile landing page where the user could self-select their mobile phone type. But that would require building a mobile page, which adds complexity. At worst – and this is where inexperience shows – The Bellevue Collection could have made sure their desktop web page that promotes their app was at least serviceable (it isn’t) for someone dedicated to downloading the app and just point the QR code there. As is, the marketers at the Bellevue collection are relying on people to proactively go to their respective app market, search for the app, and download it. It won’t happen.

In addition to the missing mobile call-to-action there is nowhere on the blog that offers the app. (We’ll ignore the fact that the blog is not mobile-friendly) This is a case of not recognizing the mobile user. The Bellevue Collection is offering a mobile app but has presented only one clear option to anyone who is interested, a link to the blog. The mobile app should be prominently promoted on the blog.

A URL is being promoted to people who are walking by; they are mobile. Do they think someone will write down the url? On what? Well, probably their mobile phone, right? And maybe right into the browser for a quick check to see what’s there.

Emerald City Smoothie Blends Up a Big Fail

This post contributed by Derek Johnson – Tatango SMS Marketing.

I’ve seen some pretty bad SMS campaigns since we started Tatango in 2007, but a new Emerald City Smoothie campaign here in Seattle takes the cake when it comes to worst SMS campaign of 2011, or smoothie in this case. Today I snapped the following photo of this new SMS campaign, encouraging customers to text “alltxt ECS1″ to 368674. Emerald City Smoothie SMS Campaign

Before even getting into what happens when you text “alltext ECS1″ to 368674, I wanted to start with what is wrong with this advertisement.

  1. Emerald City Smoothie has completely ignored the three requirements for print advertising set by the Mobile Marketing Association’s U.S. Consumer Best Practices. These include 1) displaying additional carrier costs “Msg&Data Rates May Apply”, 2) a resource such as a phone number or website where subscribers can reference all terms and conditions and 3) instructions on canceling or opting-out of the service “Text STOP to stop”. See section 1.2-4 for more info.
  2. Mixing of lowercase and uppercase letters in a keyword is never a good idea, as shifting between the two letter sets is confusing for some mobile users. The key for any SMS campaign is to make the opt-in process as simple and smooth as possible, but Emerald City Smoothie doesn’t care.
  3. Including spaces in a keyword is also never a good idea, as some would be subscribers will enter the keyword into their mobile phones without spaces, in-turn giving an error to the customer. Try it, text “AlltxtECS1″ to 368674.
  4. The last thing I saw wrong with this advertisements is the actual selection of the word for the keyword. With keywords you always want them to have some relevance to your product, industry, company brand, etc. Emerald City Smoothie in this SMS campaign has picked a keyword “Alltxt ECS1″ that has no relevance to anything, and sounds more like a computer command than an actual word. (Update: Someone just pointed out that ECS1 is most likely initials for Emerald City Smoothie, with a “1″ appended to the end. This makes more sense now, but shit, if I didn’t realize that, how many other customers won’t as well)

After you text message “alltext ECS1″ to 368674 though, that’s when the real shit-show begins with this SMS campaign.

Emerald City Smoothie Mobile Marketing Campaign

Lets breakdown what is wrong with the message above.

  1. First off, what the heck is ALLTXT.ORG, and what does it have to do with Emerald City Smoothie? After visting ALLTXT.ORG, the answer is completely nothing. It looks like possibly ALLTXT is the company managing this shit-show of a campaign, but I’m still not clear why it’s displayed at the top of the message. Very confusing from a customers perspective.
  2. Why does it say (1/1) in the message. I could see reasoning for (1/2) if there were multiple messages, but what’s the point of (1/1) if it takes up valuable characters and confuses the potential subscriber.
  3. Double opt-in from a mobile keyword? This is over-kill, even the Mobile Marketing Association’s U.S. Consumer Best Practices only requires a single opt-in when using a keyword from a mobile phone. This additional step is excessive and makes the process of opting into this SMS campaign more complicated than it needs to be.
  4. I’m still confused as to what ECS1 is, and telling me to reply YES to “follow ECS1″ is making me think Emerald City Smoothie is now talking about Twitter. As defined in Twitter speak by the Twittonary (Twitter’s version of the dictionary), “follow” is someone choosing to sign up to receive someones tweets.

Ok, lets say I bite and reply YES, then it gets worse… way worse. Emerald City SMS Marketing CampaignWhat makes this even worse?

  • Again with the ALLTXT.ORG – Who are these guys?
  • As before, Emerald City Smoothie has ignored the Mobile Marketing Association’s U.S. Consumer Best Practices and left out key information in the confirmation message such as additional carrier costs “Msg&Data Reates May Apply”, frequency of messaging and customer support information “text HELP for help”. (See section 1.5-7 for more info.) At least they told subscribers how to opt-out, I give them credit for that.
  • Again with the “ECS1″, still not sure who I’m following, or if we’re still talking about SMS.
  • Again with the (1/1)…
  • Another mystery word has been added… “DOMZ” now appears in parenthesis at the bottom of the text message. I’m familiar with DMOZ, but this DOMZ is a mystery to me and this whole thing is starting to feel like The Da Vinci Code with all of these mystery codes.

But wait, all may be saved as my finger hovers over the link to “get the app”. Have the mobile gods just been screwing with me up until now, possibly leaving the best for last? As I wait for my browser to load, I imagine downloading a beautiful mobile app, with mobile optimized photos, videos and even a cool nearest location finder. I even imagine myself letting out a little joyful shout as order my favorite smoothie right from my mobile phone. Unfortunately, after I click on the URL, what I see in front of me resembles what I would imagine it would look like if the mobile gods had taken a big ol’ shit on my mobile phones browser. First, this isn’t a mobile app, it’s a mobile website. Second, the mobile website isn’t even finished… I can’t even tell if it’s been started. Does anyone at Emerald City Smoothie even test things before they push them live?

Emerald City Smoothie Mobile Website

Ok, there may be one shred of hope here in saving Emerald City Smoothie from being put at the top of my list for worst SMS campaigns of 2011. I wince as I push the button titled “ALERT: Special Message”. As the page loads I pray for at least a mobile coupon, or after this train-wreck of an SMS campaign, even a picture of a cute dog or girl in a bikini would have made me smile.

Emerald City Smoothie Mobile Website 2

NOOOO!!! Damn you Emerald City Smoothie, you’ve got to be kidding me. I’m back at the very beginning where we started, telling me to text “ALLTEXT ECS1″ to 368674. Without further ado, I crown you the worst SMS campaign of 2011.

Congratulations Emerald City Smoothie! You have just been crowned by @thederekjohnson as the worst worst SMS campaign of 2011. (Tweet This)


What could have saved this campaign?

Well, Derek pretty much points out the epic nature of this fail but here are your blog moderator’s comments:

This campaign is using a shared short code. While services that share a code exist for a very good reason they come with additional risk. A fail like this can raise the eyebrows of the mobile operators. If they don’t like what they see and it doesn’t conform to the MMA rules they have every right to shut off the short code.  When that happens every company using the code will be shut off, too. Services like Tatango, enforce MMA compliance in the way their service is configured and are far less likely to have a single customer put the entire code at risk.

Also, I don’t really blame Emerald City Smoothie on this one – not completely at least. They are smoothie experts not mobile marketing experts. The problem is that doesn’t (or likely can’t) provide their customers with strategic guidance as to how to promote the opportunity to engage via mobile. Though, you would have thought someone at ECS would have tested the process to see just how broken it is.

REI Fail #2 – Make It Stop

Someone please call REI. Whoever is running their mobile marketing is asleep.image: REI SKI Magazine ad

We’re coming up on ski season and skiers and boarders alike will be keeping a close eye on snow conditions.  REI is presumably here to help. In the new issue of SKI Magazine REI placed a full-page ad dedicated largely to their equipment servicing offer but for those with iPhone and Android-based phones they have a bonus: a free snow report app!

Using a nice, short URL,, they successfully avoided the inherent challenges with QR codes (i.e., some people don’t know what they are and don’t have a reader installed on their phone). This tidy little URL can easily be typed into a phone browser, which is what I did. Soon the now-familiar REI image: REI Ad Copymobile site began loading. After a few seconds the site was loaded and – no app anywhere. I wasn’t even on a page that was supposed to have apps. I was just staring at the front door of their mobile site.


Looking around, I didn’t even see where the apps might be. Under ‘SHOP’? Under ‘Find Out’? Checking….. nope. I don’t see it anywhere. On an off-chance I thought I’d try the URL from my computer and there – on the fixed Internet – is a page offering an iPhone app. Yay! But what about Android? Oop. In pretty orange letters the page says, “Android Version Coming Soon!” I could have swore the ad said for iPhone and Android. Wait! It did. Fail again. Sigh.

Credit: @daniel_phelps


What might have saved this campaign?
At some risk of stating the obvious REI could have simply created a page on their mobile site where the app(s) could be downloaded. When their web servers detected that a mobile device was accessing the user could be taken directly to that page. As far as promoting an app for Android when none exists? This bad idea could be mitigated by offering to alert me via SMS when the app is ready. Then send me the link to the download page.