Fad Mobile Apps. Accident or Indicator?

Posted by Taylor Haney on Thu, Dec 18, 2014

Here is another insightful mobile guest blog written by Eric Fulwiler, VP, Account Director at Mullen. Eric dives into the importance of 'flash-in-the-pan' mobile apps and the insight we can gain from them. Interested in guest blogging? Next month's theme is social media. E-mail taylor@mitx.org if you are interested in contributing!

Eric FulwilerEric leads social and emerging platform strategy at Mullen across its portfolio and manages internal social operations. Eric is a sought-after expert on key developments and the future of the social content marketing and advertising industry, and holds multiple advisory positions with Boston, NYC and SF-based social content, ad-tech, and analytics start-ups. He was an early employee and operations lead for VaynerMedia in NYC and SF, and oversaw early social media efforts for Forbes.com.

Some apps are staples in our lives ­ steadily growing with a proven user base over time. Instagram, Evernote, Vine, etc. But many are here one week and gone the next. They appear out of nowhere, and rocket to viral success at the top of the charts only to peak and fall out of favor. Quickly. And it seems to happen frequently. It almost seems like we're in the era of the 'flash in the pan' apps.

And we are. The speed at which a small team with little to no capital can design, build and deploy an app is incredible. Some of these 'flash in the pans' go from concept to circulation in just a couple weeks. Technology allows for the mass production of any and all types of apps we, as collective humanity, can think of. I always disagree when people talked about our attention spans being fragmented by the abundance of choice. Our brains don't change that quickly. Yes, we move from one thing to the other, but that's because we have more to chose from. It's economics, not physiology that drives quick adoption and departure from these apps. Abundance of choice drives high volatility of demand.

Just because an app may have a short, intense life cycle doesn't make it less important. "Fads" exist for a reason. Tens of thousands of people don't make the same decision (to use or not use an app) for no reason.

Studying any human behavior is meaningful - analog or digital. And it's the job of many (including marketers) to figure out what those reasons are. Within each "flash in the pan" there's a psychological, cultural, and economic truth waiting to be found out.

Two examples. Chat Roulette wasn't successful for no reason. Anonymity and voyeurism are real human motivations, and Chat Roulette hit a collective nerve of people wanting to explore that. And Yo? While the idea of an app that's only functionality is to send one-word back and forth to friends sounds inane, the motivation behind it is not. One-word communication is a trend that's been growing globally, especially in areas with limited internet or cellular connectivity. People send one word communications back and forth with pre-arranged context of what it means ("e.g. one ping means call me back. two pings means i'm busy).

Study the VC's, they get this. It's their job to understand trends. And yes, money is cheap right now and there are always people looking to capitalize on viral hits so you can't always trust where the cash flows.

But the good VC's, the good marketers, the people who are good at not only seeing what people are doing but understanding the motivation behind it - they see flash in the pan apps as representative of something much greater.