Thomas Quinn for the Big Issue writes:
The effects of alcohol are not pretty – as shown by the Drinking Mirror, a very successful app promoting a healthier lifestyle
Back at the beginning of January, as Britain struggled to overcome its collective festive hangover, the Scottish government released an iPhone app, which exploded in popularity. The app was conceived as part of a campaign aimed at women whose slogan, Drop a Glass Size, was designed to encourage a radical change in drinking habits north of the border.
Developed by Auriole Prince, a forensics artist working with Rancon, a Cheltenham-based software company, the Drinking Mirror invites you to upload a photo of yourself, fill in how many units you drink a week and, at the swipe of a finger, see what you are going to look like in 10 years.
It isnt pretty. In fact, the results bloated and blotchy are, in general, both hilarious and depressingly terrible. Ageing is always an approximation, especially with an app, says Prince, who has exploited her skills in the past on missing persons campaigns.
It has to be an automatic process so you are taking an approximation and making it work for everybody. Its not particularly scientific but it is a fun way of getting the message across. The effects of drinking include weight gain its calorific. And it dehydrates the skin, therefore you lose the elasticity in your skin it wrinkles more.
Its brilliant. Because it is instantaneous, anyone can use it, and it is doing it to your own face, not someone elses. It gets the message home a lot harder when you see it on yourself. Younger people might not pick up leaflets, but they will use an app and play with it.
Even after just a few weeks, it seems the strategy has been a success. With only a relatively modest press launch, the Drinking Mirror has been downloaded more than 330,000 times, topped the app charts and been featured in national and international media from The Sun to the Wall Street Journal and NBCs Today Show.
Jill Walker, head of health marketing for the Scottish government, says the app allows people to understand the significance of a unit of alcohol. It also shows how small, easy changes to drinking habits can have a significant impact on overall health and well-being, she adds.
While this is great news for the Scottish governments campaign, its also a clear indication that an app boom might just be round the corner, selling government messages straight into our hands. Ivana Farthing, head of mobile and consumer technology at Diffusion PR, points to US data that shows the average consumer watches 168 minutes of TV per day but spends 127 minutes in mobile apps up 35 per cent year on year.
So if the popularity in mobile apps continues, its only a matter of time before apps overtake TV as the key channel for media consumption, she says. Although TVs are evolving with smart TV apps, so it may never happen.
Jan Heuff, managing director of Rancon, sees app potential everywhere. Most recently he has been working with finance companies, bringing gamer technology to apps that explain the importance of pension funds and investments.
Its a very personal form of communication, he argues. Your phone is a private, personal object. If you can put something on there that talks to people in a meaningful way, it is a powerful piece of communication.”
For Stephen Lepitak, news editor of marketing magazine The Drum, its no surprise that governments are increasingly turning to this relatively new technology.
The reach of an app is never likely to exceed that of a TV campaign, although it is likely to be a tenth of the price in terms of development. Native apps are also able to offer what a TV campaign cannot an element of interactivity and a platform that can directly engage and connect the user with those sending out the messages using social channels. They can also provide highly relevant and exact data which, again, TV campaigns cannot.
The trend is set to continue. According to mobile analytics firm Flurry, Christmas Day 2012 saw, globally, eight million new computer tablets switched on for the first time. While iPads still dominate, the growth in Android tablets and the launch of Microsofts Surface show the platform is becoming as Jan Heuff puts it not just desirable but essential.
But while Apples app store alone has more than 800,000 titles, the problem for developers and campaigners will, increasingly, be getting their app noticed in a crowded marketplace. A free Welsh government app, Choose Well, designed to provide health information in English and Welsh, recently came under fire from politicians because, at a cost of 26,000 it had only been downloaded by 1,183 people a cost of about 22 a person.
As an agency our mantra is engage, entertain and reward, Heuff reflects. If you can do those three things youve got yourself at least a hope of having a hit.