How Kia used tennis and tech to change perceptions

The car maker's app that turned a smartphone into a virtual racquet and was a brand-building success.

Why should you care about it?
This year, $100bn will be spent worldwide on creating, servicing and extending mobile apps, according to a forecast by Research2Guidance.

Yet a study by Localytics estimates that less than 50% of all apps are used 10 or more times before being abandoned. One in five apps is only tried once.

Given the challenge of merely retaining app users, it might seem unrealistic to expect an app to keep consumers interested, change perceptions of a brand, support a sponsorship and directly trigger sales.

The Kia ‘Game On’ campaign for the Australian Tennis Open, shows it can be done. Created by Australian mobile specialist Mnet with agencies Innocean and Initiative, it was worth far more than just one try.

What did the brand do?
Kia, a sponsor of the 2014 Australian Tennis Open, wanted to change sentiment about its cars – including the perception that it lacked innovative models – by bringing tennis to the public in a technologically ambitious, new way.

Central to this was an app that turned a smartphone into a virtual racquet, enabling anyone to return serves from Sam Groth, the Australian tennis player with the fastest-recorded serve.

The app harnessed a phone’s accelerometer, gyro and timer to measure the device’s "swing" for speed and accuracy. Ads featuring Groth serving were created and audio watermarking was used
to synchronise the phone’s movement with the trajectory of serves and to assess the quality of the return.

Banner ads and social media prompted consumers to download the app and start practising. They could then attempt to return ‘live’ serves in ads aired throughout the Open.

In an updated 2015 version, players could challenge friends, replay shots, tour courts virtually and take part in quizzes and prize draws. There was also a search for the top ‘Game On’ player.

Did it work?

  • The app topped the iTunes Australia charts with 193,000 downloads in two weeks; users averaged more than 15 minutes of play.
  • An estimated A$2m of free editorial coverage was generated and organic traffic to Kia’s website doubled.
  • 79% of players felt ‘more positive’ or ‘much more positive’ about Kia as a result of using the app.
  • The number of test-drive requests received via the app and website increased by 29% year on year while the number of requests to ‘locate a Kia dealer’ grew by 64%.
  • Total consideration for the brand increased by 18%.
  • There was an 8% rise in sales, compared with a 6% target (despite a cut in the marketing budget and a fall in the Australian Open’s TV audience).

What else do we want to know?
The more apps attract investment, the more they trigger questions about whether they can be used for brand building.

IPA Effectiveness Awards have featured cases in which apps were at the heart of effective ecommerce
(for easyJet), fundraising drives (for Depaul UK) and the creation of free media (the Carling iPint).

But with the exception of a "brand halo" effect, created by a recurring promotion run by McDonald’s in Denmark, it is difficult to find hard evidence of how apps can nurture long-term, strategic brand values.

At first glance, Kia’s ‘Game On’ app seems to have a limit given that it was linked to an annual two-week tennis tournament. But it would be good to know whether the app has created longer-term fame for the brand and helped to stake Kia’s claim on new territories, such as innovation and sport, helping to differentiate the car maker in its category.

An integral part of Kia’s involvement in the Australian Open, the app helped increase awareness and consideration of the brand, but did it enhance any of the other benefits typically associated with sponsorship?

The fact the app was centre stage again for Kia at the 2015 Open is a promising sign. We would like to see it return next year – as an entry for the 2016 IPA Effectiveness Awards – so we can give it a thorough assessment.

The more apps attract investment, the more they will trigger questions about whether they can be used for brand building.

IPA Effectiveness Awards have featured cases in which apps were at the heart of effective ecommerce
(for easyJet), fundraising drives (for Depaul UK) and the creation of free media (the Carling iPint).

Learnings unpacked

  • Make gameplay part of the ads
  • Position the brand as a provider of unique experiences
  • Use incentives to encourage repeat use
  • Incorporate measurable activities, such as product requests, into your app

Carlos Grande (carlos@ipa.co.uk) is the effectiveness editor of the IPA, formerly of the Financial Times and Warc

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