More marketers connect with consumers through mobile apps

Marketers of everything from beer to couture are dialing up mobile-device applications for their brands.

As people have become enamored of how the software works for them without having to go to a mobile browser, they've made more than 1 billion downloads of free and paid "apps." Apple's aapl iPhone has led the way: In less than a year, the number of iPhone apps available went from zero to 50,000.

Apps are fast becoming part of today's marketing mix because they can connect brands and products directly to consumers. That's also made them one of the hottest topics here this week at the ad industry's biggest annual awards competition, the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

"A branded iPhone application grants a fantastic consumer engagement," says Alexandre Mars, CEO at Phonevalley, a mobile-ad agency that has created apps for Kraft and Chanel. "They are rich, compelling and insightful. They provide a quick response time, and they are available without any data connection."

Among other brands using apps to connect with consumers: Audi, Pacifico Beer, Hardee's, movie studios, Sherwin-Williams, Target, Burger King and Zippo, as well as USA TODAY. Some branded apps offer games or information, while some provide utility, such as paint-color selection with ColorSnap for Sherwin-Williams. And some are just cool.

Audi, one of the first brands to launch an app last year, has had more than 3.5 million downloads of its Audi A4 Driving Challenge game. It recently introduced two more apps, including a 90-minute high-definition documentary.

"Our consumer is very tech savvy," says Jeri Ward, general manager of marketing and strategy. "This is a way to connect on their terms and the way they use technology."

Mexican beer brand Pacifico, with its image as a beer for people more interested in the adventurous side of Mexico than the beach, recently introduced a rooster alarm clock app that crows. It features Claudio the rooster, Pacifico's longtime mascot. When the alarm goes off, you can shake the iPhone to turn it off and rustle Claudio's feathers.

"It's part of a fully integrated campaign that brings authentic bits and pieces of Mexico to life," says Paul Verdu, vice president of marketing. "It's especially appealing for our key audience, the 21- to 29-year-old beer-drinking guy."

Kraft's 99-cent iFood Assistant includes 7,000 recipes, a dish of the day and a store locator for grocers. Through last week, the iFood Assistant was the fourth-most-popular lifestyles app.

Kraft kft spokesman Basil Maglaris says that 90% of people who use the app also go on to register at The app is also helping Kraft reach men. "A strong percentage of iFood Assistant users are men," he says. "We're appealing to a broader base of consumers than our traditional audience (of) women."