The Case for “Popcorn” Apps


4 minute read
Calvium Team

Calvium Team

Digital Insights

One of the trends that we are seeing as the app market matures is the move away from apps being blockbuster sellers in their own right to apps that enhance, augment or add value to a larger event or cause. Much as popcorn is a great treat to make your cinema going experience even better, a well designed app can be a pleasurable experience to support an event, conference or promotion.

A good example is the Vision app which was created by designer Tyrone Probert to support a Creativity conference. It provided handy information at a glance, which was great at the time and easily disposable after the event. Creating the app was feasible within the conference marketing budget because Tyrone was able to re-use the graphics and copy that he was already producing for the marketing materials and he could make it himself using AppFurnace in just a few days. When app development costs become a few hundred pounds rather than a few thousand pounds, and development time is a few days rather than weeks then the popcorn app starts to make sense for more and more businesses.

The other advantage of a popcorn app is you know who your audience is and you know how to reach them. Ticketing, the web site, and emails can all be used to make the audience aware of the app without additional marketing, you simply add the app details to the marketing materials that you planned to produce anyway. The app simply becomes another piece of the marketing collateral that the design agency promoting the event can produce.

Of course apps to support events is not new. Here’s a useful blog that does a review of apps created for conferences and trade shows and includes some of the turn-key solutions for building apps for events.  Some of these specialist solutions provide comprehensive functionality for commonly required features such as venue maps and speaker details linked to a central content management system. But for smaller scale events such as company family days, fresher weeks, local band tours and niche conferences then a bespoke app, tailored to the particular subject and location would fit the situation far better.

As an example of a non-standard app developed for an event we worked with a talented team called SpiritLevel Productions who wanted to create an Alternate Reality Game for the StoryWorld Conference in San Francisco. Players were taken on a three-day terror ride through the spirit world via a live crime scene, bespoke tarot cards, newspapers, a ghost pamphlet and the iPhone App. In this case the app emulated the haunted phone of the main story character and in addition to seeing the main conference time table you could scan codes, read his incoming messages, texts, voice-mails and tweets in order to solve the mystery. The overall game experience was designed so that players could still engage with the physical elements staged throughout the conference even if they did not have the app, the app provided an extra capability and level of engagement to the game play. A documentary about the event and lessons learned will be coming out soon.

The two examples described are at either end of the spectrum in terms of conventionality and simplicity. But they hopefully give some idea of the breadth of popcorn apps that are possible.

In summary a good popcorn app:

  • provides essential information instantly, which is particularly useful in areas of weak or non existent wifi or 3G access
  • is tailored to the venue and/or subject
  • embeds social networking capabilities
  • includes engaging features such as a quiz, game or useful functions

Popcorn apps are :

  • targeted – the audience is well defined and reachable
  • relevant – the content relates to the event and is designed to be simple, clear and immediate to access
  • timely – they have a well defined window of use
  • engaging – they provide beautifully crafted interactions relevant to the specific content and context
  • useful – they have a well defined purpose
  • disposable – popcorn apps really are for xmas – not for life!

And there are two major factors that are helping to make the case for popcorn apps

  1. A recognition that the qualities of a well designed popcorn app: simplicity, clarity and immediateness are valuable to users, especially when they are on the move.
  2.  It is now possible for designers, rather than specialist programmers, to create popcorn apps which can re-use the graphics, design, copy and any other digital materials that may have already been developed. This means that costs can be kept down and popcorn apps can be developed alongside  other marketing materials such as web-sites, flyers, emails and adverts.
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