Turning The Smurfs into gold without using magic

The Smurfs franchise has been retooled into a cross-media marketing masterpiece that Steve Dryall says represents the future of app marketing.

You don't have to love The Smurfs to admire the marketing efforts that have made the franchise a success for decades. If you aren't familiar with the little blue animated characters who live in mushroom houses, you will be soon thanks to a new movie and the Smurfs' Village app for the iPhone and iPad. This cross-media marketing approach is something that every app developer should be examining for lessons in maximizing their revenue potential.

When promoting a movie using the Internet, websites are generally used to show the trailer and some limited information about the movie. Any more interactivity beyond that (although certainly possible) is usually overlooked in the face of time-to-profit ratios. The Smurfs, and their 21st century presence, have changed the interaction between movies and the net. In this new era, the app and movie work hand-in-hand to engage users and generate sales.

The Smurfs app is free with paid upgrades, which is known these days as a "freemium" app. This app was available well before the movie came out. I downloaded the app because it was free, and also to see how The Smurfs had been translated into app form. The Smurfs app is a typical collect-and-build, harvesting type of game. It looks like the creators took a farming engine and filled it with The Smurfs assets and then created a storyline with some of the better known Smurf personalities. There are tasks in the game designed to give you a feel for being part of the village. Those who remember The Smurfs will find a nostalgic appeal, and those who are new to the franchise can get a sense for the characters and setting.

As an app developer I found this very exciting and interesting. It is an example of working with the freemium revenue model. If you want to play, it's free, but if you want to upgrade, buy special items, or make things happen quicker (it can be slow to start), you need Smurfberries, which cost real money. Although you do get a trickle of Smurfberries as you play, the best fun comes from buying them in bulk, which translates to profit for the game creators. As with any of these games, there are some enthusiastic players with some impressive setups. Combining a freemium collect-and-build game with a major brand was certainly a potential winning formula for a top revenue app, but there is more. As the movie approached, the game offered up the trailer to help build excitement. Delivered as a minor in-game upgrade, we can easily see the potential for how these types of media can interact.

From a developer's perspective, this game's assets did not have to be invented; the assets just needed to be converted since all of the settings, histories, and characters were already well established. There was a previously installed fan base who would be open to new and interactive content (like myself), as well as a new generation of potential fans who could find the game entertaining. Using the app, all fans have been given a way to participate in the growth of their own Smurf village. This is an exciting form of interaction that creates exceptional potential for user loyalty, in addition to opening up communications between content provider and content consumer. The Smurfs app is not only a revenue generator and a marketing channel for the movie and other related media, it is also a first-hand interaction for fans that has never before been experienced.

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