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This article was published on August 2, 2013

$10,000: Meet the app developer who’s betting big on promo videos

$10,000: Meet the app developer who’s betting big on promo videos
Paul Sawers
Story by

Paul Sawers

Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check h Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check him out on Google+.

Google recently announced that it had passed one million apps on Google Play, narrowly edging Apple to the magic milestone figure.

But between Android and iOS, there’s the best part of two million apps available on the dominant mobile platforms, thought to represent around 90% of all smartphones shipped in Q1 2013.

There’s little question that brands and developers are finding it increasingly difficult to get even the bobbles of their beanies above the parapet. Sure, coverage in technology publications such as TNW will help, and if there is a broader mainstream appeal they might even it strike it lucky with a spread in the national press.

But how much resources should brands be putting in to promoting their mobile apps? It’s a good question for sure, one that Franz Bruckhoff, lead designer and developer at Germany-based app development studio Taptanium has some thoughts on.

If you’ve not heard of Taptanium before, they’re the guys behind perennially popular iOS weather app Haze. And they also recently launched Thunderspace, a stereoscopic 3D soundscape of thundery weather.

Thunderspace is a lovely app in itself. But one of the more interesting facts to emerge from our coverage last month was that Taptanium had spent $11,500 on a promotional video. We wrote at the time:

“As far as promo skits go, it’s one of the better ones we’ve seen.”

And I stand by that – compared to your average ten-a-penny, hackneyed promo flick, the Thunderspace effort was a cut above most other demo videos I see.

Filmed in LA using a 24-strong team of creatives, the video was evidently designed to convey quality. “If the video’s that good, surely the app must be worth our time,” right? In this case, I’d say probably yeah – the app only costs $0.99, and if you like falling asleep to the sounds of crashing thunder, it’s money well spent. And the video that accompanied it was striking – it made you want to learn more.

You’ll see movies and games splayed across billboards, magazines, TV screens and all the rest. But a simple mobile app? Media reviews, word-of-mouth and occasionally app store charts are the only real way of discovering new applications. Apps may be commodities, but they’re rarely seriously promoted anywhere.

The bar for marketing expenses

“Do you really need a $11,000 promo film for an app?,” asks Bruckhoff. “My answer to that would be ‘yes, absolutely’. The bar for marketing expenses is the next thing to be raised, and despite our scarce resources we aim to create big-budget films for all future Taptanium apps.”

While it’s difficult to attribute the success directly to the video, Thunderspace has achieved some decent early traction – it was one of the top 50 paid apps overall in the US, and number one paid in the Health & Fitness category. Elsewhere, it was typically in the top 100 paid apps around the world, which isn’t bad.

As a matter of fact, Taptanium is being fairly transparent about the return on its initial investment. On the homepage, it reveals how many downloads it’s had to date – given the app costs $0.99, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how much money it’s taken, though this of course doesn’t include in-app purchases.


Bruckhoff says his attitude has evolved since he first got into developing for Apple’s omnipresent devices.

“When I started iOS app development, I thought that the App Store was the biggest marketing instrument, but as it turns out, it’s paramount to market your apps properly, and with the same amount of effort you’ve put into the app itself,” he says.

Indeed, Bruckhoff now sees marketing as a necessary part of the process, to make those who’d benefit from the app aware that it exists. “The App Store resembles a tiny pond that is miles deep, and only so many apps can be seen on the surface,” adds Bruckhoff. “Most of them launch at the bottom and stay there – but a video can act as a submarine which beams some light on the app in the dark, eventually helping it to rise to the surface.”

Can video help the programming star?

Many ‘traditional’ media outlets are turning to video – The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and others. Video and the Web clearly go hand-in-hand, yet developers aren’t yet able to include promo or demo videos alongside their handiwork in the App Store.

The App Store offers the perfect platform for brands to promote their wares through video – anyone swithering about whether to cough up $0.99 for an app can watch how it works before committing. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if Apple was to introduce video embeds at some point, just as Google does on Google Play, so at least Bruckhoff & Co. will be prepared should that happen.

The very fact that you had an app back in 2008 was worthy of a back-slap. Today, you’re a little weird if you don’t have an app – I exaggerate, but only a little. To stand out from the crowd, developers will have to be more cunning with their endeavors.

The rise of the startapp

Startups these days can often be just a simple app – let’s call them startapps.

Many of them don’t have offices, or even proper websites because there’s little need. But more are opting for landing pages which are used as marketing ‘hooks’ to help tell their story. These pages increasingly include videos, photos, FAQs and more. So will we really start to see the video element come to the fore as a fundamental promotional asset?

“I’m quite sure it will eventually lead to a wealth of Hollywood-quality app promo films with budgets way beyond $10,000, as a way to differentiate in presentation style and get media attention,” says Bruckhoff . “Maybe up to the point where apps need to reach number 10 in the US top paid, or better, for at least a week to pay for the film alone.”

Of course, there is already a big market for promo videos. What Taptanium is doing isn’t anything knew in itself, but by focusing on bigger-budget, it may well align itself more closely with ‘quality’ in the eyes of the app-buying public.

“If you have a superb quality app but your promo video is cheap, what does it communicate about your app when the other folks have both a superb quality app and a superb quality promo film,” concludes Bruckhoff.

Feature Image Credit – Thinkstock