FaceApp: just luck or targeted mobile marketing campaign?

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Lorenzo Rossi
FaceApp: just luck or targeted mobile marketing campaign?

Table of Content:

  1. The FaceApp Boom: random or planned?
  2. The Influencer Effect vs the Viral Component
  3. Takeaways from the FaceApp case
  4. Our advice
The FaceApp craze has gone global. Thanks to artificial intelligence algorithms, this app is able to age the people's photos in a particularly realistic way. Lorenzo Rossi, a co-founder of Mobile Marketing Italia, has analyzed from the mobile marketing point of view how an unknown app got millions of downloads and became the top free app in just a few hours.
FaceApp on Google Play
The old age filter by FaceApp is taking over social media. Image: play.google.com

We, in Italy, discovered the app on Sunday afternoon, reading the sports news, thanks to this article we stumbled across showing two players from Atalanta (Gomez and Petagna) joking about the effects of training in summer, posting aged photos of themselves.

It was not difficult to figure out which app the two players had used to create the photos, given that the name of the app could be seen quite clearly at the bottom right in some of the images published (left there by mistake or intentionally?).

We then downloaded the app and started using it for our photos and those of our friends. The results were nothing short of exhilarating! Once we posted one of the photos on our personal Instagram accounts, we started receiving dozens of messages asking which filter we had used.

The trend of posting pictures of what we might look like when we are old has gone insanely viral

Given its success and the speed with which all our contacts on Instagram and Facebook started posting “aged” photos, we became curious and started to do some research on this app, which is actually not new given that it was first released in January 2017 (and had already seen a boom in its use in April 2017).

What immediately stands out is that FaceApp is at the top of the free apps list on the iOS app stores in Europe, the USA, Latin America and Australia across all categories.

Even more interesting is the domino effect that has seen Oldify — an app similar to FaceApp but not free — rise to the top of the paid apps list.

We would have thought that growing old was everyone’s nightmare, yet all of a sudden everyone wants to show themselves looking older. And all of this just because of a couple of photos posted on Instagram by two football players who are not exactly world-famous (no offense to Petagna and Gomez but we’re not talking about Ronaldo, Messi or Buffon). Suspicious.

The FaceApp Boom: random or planned?

Let’s analyze some aspects to try and find an answer.

Firstly, we will expand the analysis to the historic ranking, including the main European and US markets, also for Android.

FaceApp ranking on iOS App Store
FaceApp ranking on Google Play Store

If we look carefully, we can see how from 11th July for iOS and 13th July for Android, FaceApp started to rise up the ranks of the most downloaded apps across all categories (hence, not only in the category of reference) until reaching first place in all analysed markets (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, England and the United States).

Indeed, in the days leading up to 13th July, in many of the countries taken into consideration, the app was not even in the top thousand of the Android rankings, hence this leap is even more astounding.

At this point, we must ask ourselves a question: how likely is it that a couple of photos posted on the personal social media pages of players from a team that is not exactly Italy’s most famous (no offence, Atalanta) could have influenced markets like those of England or the United States? The answer is: not very likely.

To clear up any doubts, we then analyzed two other markets — Russia and Australia — for which we saw the same trend as those assessed prior.

FaceApp ranking on iOS App Store in Russia and Australia

With this kind of data, we can eventually say that what at the beginning seemed to be just a lucky shot, instead, could be the result of influencer marketing activities across multiple markets, where the company behind FaceApp paid celebrities (well known just in their country) to publish photos of their aged faces.

The more attentive amongst us could object that the new Instagram policies require that when an Influencer partnership is in place, the celebrity receiving money for sponsoring a product must make it clear that it is a “paid partnership”.

But there is the fact that brands, especially the lesser-known ones, can easily make an agreement with influencers or promoters (in particular the smaller ones, or the ones not known for being normally influencers, like those two Italian football players) by signing “hidden” agreements. Therefore the theory of a planned Influencer Marketing campaign executed by FaceApp still makes total sense.

The Influencer Effect vs the Viral Component

With a quick search, we can see how many other football players from Italian teams have responded to Petagna and Gomez's original Instagram Stories, in turn publishing their photos ages with the same app. But also in many other countries, celebrities are posting selfies in which they appear old, whilst the #FaceApp hashtag is all the rage even on Twitter, with people posting fun and surprised shots of their ‘old’ appearance.

We have thus come to the point where a viral component is added to the influencer effect, to the extent that it becomes difficult to determine how the trend originated or to even distinguish between paid influencers and viral influencers who promote the service of their own free will.

We must clarify that the first market to show signs of the FaceApp craze was that of the US, where FaceApp had already reached 16th place in the ranking of the most downloaded apps by 12th July, whilst it had not yet even reached the Top 100 in other countries.

Unfortunately, with the data at our disposal, we can only make assumptions on how this trend originated. However, considering what we have seen, the chances of it being a random effect are exceedingly limited and we feel safe in saying that behind it there was a real User Acquisition strategy based on a global Influencer Marketing campaign.

Takeaways from the FaceApp case

Although we may never know the truth, we can still learn some important lessons from this whole thing regarding User Acquisition activities:

  • Influencer marketing works, always. Be it planned or not, when a celebrity speaks positively about a product on social media, their followers will try it out (especially if the content is real and clearly not a marketing campaign).
  • The viral component is the key: not everyone who tries to go viral manages to do so.
  • Having a watermark is fundamental — without the "FaceApp" logo on the pic, people would never have been able to figure out which app was used.
  • The domino effect: the virality of "growing old" has also benefited other apps similar to FaceApp, to the extent that users have even downloaded paid apps, perhaps seeking a better service than the free app offers.

Our advice

Not including Influencer Marketing in the user acquisition mix for your mobile app is definitely a big mistake.

Data shows, indeed, how 1 in 5 American consumers have made at least one purchase thanks to an Influencer Marketing campaign on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook.

Considering that the amount of time spent on social media platforms continues to steadily grow, it makes sense that Influencer Marketing strategies for mobile applications will become increasingly significant.

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