CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- One of the coolest apps on the iPhone isn't Pandora or Facebook: It's recipes and shopping lists for Kraft singles, Jell-O gelatin and Minute Rice.
Yes, enough Kraft Food devotees are actually paying to be marketed to on their beloved iPhones that the company's iFood Assistant is now one of the device's 100 most popular paid apps, and No. 2 in the lifestyle category. With its endeavor, Kraft is pulling off a rare trick: getting consumers to pay a one-time 99-cent fee for the app and also sit through ads on it. And in the process, it's collecting useful data for targeting them more closely.
The lesson: When a marketer creates something that's actually useful, consumers don't really see it as straight marketing, or they're at least willing to accept advertising as the payoff.
Kraft's app, which launched in December, is a helpful tool for consumers looking to make dinners faster, easier and more convenient. "When we look at consumers, we think that they're busy and they're looking for food-planning tools that can make their lives easier," said Ed Kaczmarek, director-innovation, new services at Kraft. "We developed iFood Assistant as a downloadable app so they can use it anytime and anywhere."
He added that his division, charged with forging deeper relationships with consumers using new technology, developed the program for the iPhone because of the consumer experience it provides.
IFood Assistant's rich interface works well with the handset, and its navigation is similar to that of the iPod. The app offers a host of recipes, browse-able by ingredients, meal type or prep time. Consumers may register at KraftFoods.com to save recipes and build shopping lists.
Recipes come with instructions simple enough for the uninitiated, and daily featured recipes try to tempt the uninspired. Of course, the dishes incorporate Kraft products. A featured recipe last week, for "chicken cacciatore pronto," calls for Kraft Light Zesty Italian dressing, chicken thighs, garlic, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, red peppers, whole-wheat spaghetti, Kraft Grated Parmesan Cheese and Kraft 2% Milk Shredded Mozzarella Cheese. There are a number of instructional videos, with guides to portion sizes and knife skills, as well as step-by-step directions for making dishes, such as fishcakes or even roast turkey with sausage stuffing.
For now, Mr. Kaczmarek said Kraft is using the data to understand when and how consumers are shopping, what they're making, and which ingredients they prefer. Since users need to sign in to Kraft Foods before downloading recipes and shopping lists, that information is sent directly to the company, allowing Kraft to gather information on which recipes are the most popular and which ingredients are most used. Kraft is, of course, running ads throughout the app, some before the instructional videos and some with searches.
"In terms of being paid, we think it's a tremendous value for 99 cents," Mr. Kaczmarek said. "For the price of a song, we're delivering a robust offering, and any upgrade with more services and content will be free to the consumer."
Rene Ritchie, editor of the iPhone Blog, said while some consumers are willing to pay for convenient apps, and others are willing to tolerate ads if something is free, it's hard to pull off both. The fact that Kraft has been able to crack the top 100 paid apps, he said, is impressive. But he described the app's three-star rating as "middling."
"You want to see four, or five if people really like it," he said. "That's pretty middle-of-the road." Mr. Ritchie said consumers may be downloading the app blind, since there are no free trials, and then disliking the app when they realize there are ads.
The 83 reviews posted at the App Store are all over the map, from "Not good at all!" to "Wow ... best 99 cents spent." One reviewer said, "I have used Kraft online and this is just as good, plus there are more features," but lamented that the shopping lists weren't comprehensive enough. Another wrote, "I've never really cooked a lot but these recipes make me feel like Rachael Ray in the kitchen! Thanks Kraft!"
What iFood Assistant can teach marketers
- Consumers are willing to pay for utility and convenience.
- They will share personal information in exchange for useful ideas.
- Use information gathered in a targeted manner.
- Look for the "sweet spot" of what your brand can offer consumers.
- Mirroring Apple software is a selling point.