The must-see TV approach to mobile app marketing

Shane Schick

Don't touch that dial--try thinking about it as a marketing channel instead.

If you're planning to tune into A&E, CNBC, TruTV or about 12 other cable stations over the next few weeks, you may come across a 60-second commercial featuring a family of "living" smartphones that highlight some of the privacy and security issues that concern mobile users. The spots are produced by SnapMyLife, a developer based in Princeton, N.J., that offers a cloud-based security system for Android and BlackBerry devices called Snap Secure. They may be the first cable TV commercials ever created for a direct-to-consumer app, but they shouldn't be the last.

"At first I was nervous. I was wondering, 'Are we the only people doing this? Why are we the only ones doing this?'" admitted Michael Subhan, Snap MyLife's vice president of marketing. "This app has a lot of different features. How do you convey that in 60 seconds?"

The answer was to transcend the usual video demo-style approach of fingers swiping across screens and instead tell stories that address everyday situations. "Where's Jimmy," for example, features a father, mother and daughter introducing themselves, only to realize their son is missing. It's the perfect cue to talk about a real-time tracking and location feature inside Snap Secure.

While many developers may think TV advertising is too costly and difficult to measure for effectiveness, Subhan said Snap MyLife sees the commercials as part of an over-arching integrated marketing campaign that will include the usual online banners and social media, as well as outdoor signage. It may not be the right move for every app, but mobile security is a pain point that touches an extremely broad demographic and builds upon consumer behavior with previous generations of technology.

"For years, we've seen commercials about protecting your PC," he pointed out. "It's been drilled into us for years about the need for anti-virus. Really, the thought was, if you're protecting your PC, you should protect your phone."

The cost and resources required for TV advertising can be daunting for app developers, especially because it may seem less interactive than advertising through Facebook or an app store. But Snap MyLife is demonstrating good marketing best practices by emphasizing a call to action in each 60 or 30-second spot: it's encouraging viewers to visit an online landing page where they can fill out their information and be sent a direct link to the app on Google  (NASDAQ:GOOG) Play.

Given that Snap MyLife and its ad agency can monitor when spots air on cable, they can associate any spike in visits on that landing page with the "Meet the Phones" TV campaign. That's one way to calculate return on investment. Another is to take the cost of producing commercials and, as momentum for Snap Secure builds, to factor it into the other cost per acquisition of each new user.

As exciting as the marketing opportunities with social media and app stores are, they are increasingly crowded spaces. By investing in a relatively old-fashioned medium, Snap MyLife may stand out, at least in short-term. In the long term, the company is taking a more holistic approach to discoverability. It may not be long before more app developers realize they are ready for their close-up.--Shane