Is Yo, the much-ridiculed mobile app, also the next big product launching pad?
On Thursday, Motorola will release its internet-connected watch, the Moto360, exclusively over Yo, a messaging app that primarily lets users send their contacts just one message: "Yo."
Under the promotion, Yo users who send Motorola a "Yo" in time will receive a link from the company at some point during the day. (Yo says it's 4 p.m. ET, but Motorola isn't being specific.) The first 20 participants to click on the link will win a smartwatch.
Barbara Liss, senior director of social media at Motorola, admitted that turning to the lampooned app was unusual. But she insisted it was fitting for the beleaguered manufacturer, which is now in "innovation mode."
"We thought this would be a fun way to try something different," she said. "We're a mobile device; this is a mobile app. It was tapping into mobile culture, whether you liked the app or not."
Like many other handset makers, Motorola is diving into the wearable tech market as U.S. smartphone growth begins tapering off. The Moto360, a round wristwatch made with Android Wear operating system, debuted at Google's developer conference in June, and Motorola is holding a press event next week in Chicago to further promote its new devices.
A post on the publishing platform Medium, signed by "The Yo Team," announced Motorola's new stunt. "Moto 360's limited release on the Yo platform displays the power that Yo can offer brands," it reads. "The possibilities for businesses using Yo are endless."
For around two weeks, companies have tapped the app's dashboard to send out external weblinks through its messages, said Or Arbel, the CEO of Yo.
An executive familiar with the partnership said Motorola did not pay Yo for the campaign.
Motorola commanded nearly 12% of the U.S. smartphone market as recently as August 2011, according to ComScore. But its share has eroded quickly -- down to 5.9%, as of this June.
Samsung and LG, which surpassed Motorola in market share in that span, are also selling smartwatches. Each company is expecting to compete with Apple, whose long-rumored wearable device will be introduce in September, according to a report in Re/code.
Since news surfaced in June that Yo had raised $1 million from investors, several pundits and publications (Ad Age included) have derided the app as gimmicky and indicative of Silicon Valley's frothy valuations. But some tech investors have defended Yo because of its potential as a platform built for the smartphone lock-screen, which many expect to become the venue for users' interactions with connected-home apps.
Christopher Mims, a Wall Street Journal columnist, posited that Yo could outgrow Twitter, a company that reported $312 million in revenue and 271 million monthly active users last quarter.
Yo currently has 2.6 million registered users and 1.2 million active users, according to Mr. Arbel.
"Are we investing millions of dollars in Yo? No, not today," Ms. Liss said. "Do we think it deserves the chance to grow and evolve and become something? Sure."
As Motorola introduces its new device, the company is awaiting new management. Google, which purchased the Motorola handset division in 2012, agreed to sell it to Chinese manufacturer Lenovo in February for $2.9 billion.
In 2013, under Google, the Motorola brand spent $190.8 million in measured media, according to the Ad Age DataCenter. The Lenovo acquisition is expected to be finalized this fall.