The $1 million Brand App


Two months after the launch of the iPhone App Store, Zippo released a novel little app, the Virtual Zippo Lighter, which mimicked a real lighter experience. It quickly became a must-have app. With lighters generally being frowned upon in a smokefree era, the app actually became a substitute at concerts to show appreciation to a band.
“It originally started out as a branding exercise,” said Brent Tyler, event marketing and promotions manager at Zippo. “Something interesting we saw was people were bringing their cellphones to concerts and holding them up. We wanted to take the moment back.”
The current user base for the app is around 14 million, averaging 2.7 million unique runs per month, and keeping a steady pace of around 100,000 downloads per week. What’s unusual is Zippo stumbled onto a new business. It added lighter skins for purchase in May 2010. It’s on track to generate $1 million in revenue from the skins.
“The reason we did the second phase with the lighter skin store is because the app is one of the most commented apps in the App Store and everyone wanted more skins,” said Jon Vlassopulos, CEO of SkyRockit. “It’s also part of the Zippo culture in the physical world to collect different lighters. As Zippo is becoming more of a lifestyle brand, we’re building a new business.”
Zippo was able to pull off what most brands dream of: its marketing became a revenue generator, not cost center. Kraft has done this with its popular iFood app. But for most brands, apps are simply another form of advertising.
When asked how they obtained such success, both Vlassopulos and Tyler gave credit to when they released the app.
“We were on the leading edge on the app store,” said Tyler. “There were very few apps in there at the time which definitely helped catapult us to the success we now have.”
With future plans to add concert information, potentially ticket purchasing, and Foursquare-like checkins, this app has given the brand that was based around the caveman concept of fire the chance to reach a new audience.
Now, almost three years later, Zippo with development partner SkyRockit are releasing the app on the Android Market.
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