Forget bloatware. Brandware may be the next extraneous app software coming to Verizon customers' smartphones.
The wireless carrier has offered to install big brands' apps on its subscribers' home screens, potentially delivering millions of downloads, according to agency executives who have considered making such deals for their clients. But that reach would come at a cost: Verizon was seeking between $1 and $2 for each device affected, executives said.
Verizon started courting advertisers with app installations late last year, pitching retail and finance brands among others, agency executives said.
It has only offered the installations on Android phones, because Google's software is open for carriers to customize. Apple controls its platform more tightly.
The proposed deals with brands ensure that their apps download to only new devices when consumers activate the phones and their software for the first time.
Verizon has 75 million smartphone post-paid subscribers and activates about 10 million new phones a quarter. Android phones command more than 50% of the U.S. market, according to ComScore.
It's unclear whether Verizon sold any guaranteed app installations.
The company declined to comment.
Verizon's offering seems to be unique among telcos, agency executives said. The upside is that brands' apps, an essential component for any mobile strategy, would get a fast, substantial spike in downloads. It is also priced rather competitively to app-install campaigns on Facebook or Google, which can easily top $5 depending on the particulars.
There is no guarantee, however, that Verizon subscribers open the apps they find pre-installed on their phones.
"If a user is not interested, they just delete it without activating, but you're still billed for it as a brand," said one agency executive, who ultimately advised a brand not to buy the app-installs.
Another downside to Verizon's app offering is that it doesn't offer any targeting, yet. So, a brand, for instance, couldn't focus on buying pre-installed apps on phones of known customers, the executive said.
Then again, sometimes the most important metric is simple downloads. Buying them this way could make sense for a marketer seeking sampling for a crucial new app.
"If you want to get a lot of downloads, verified, in a short period of time, it's great because it's baked right into the phone," the agency source said. "It's a low threshold, low cost way to gain scale, but if you don't have a follow up strategy for engagement then you'll probably have a lot of waste."
Verizon bought AOL last year and won bidding for Yahoo last month. Marketers expect both companies' data and technology to help Verizon develop more sophisticated ad products.
Verizon has stoked some user frustration in the past with "bloatware," as have many carriers and phone manufacturers. Bloatware comprises the often irrelevant apps that arrive pre-installed on phones, though they're less often major brands' apps and more often small, proprietary services from the carriers and manufacturers.
Consumers generally dislike all the excess apps stuffing up their phones, according to Azher Ahmed, director of digital at DDB Chicago. "If the app doesn't offer valuable content and experiences, you're going to deal with a lot of frustrated users calling out your bloatware," Mr. Ahmed said.
As text and calls have become free over the years, carriers are getting creative to come up with new revenue opportunities, such as advertising, said Sara Choi, chief operating officer of AirFox, which works with smaller carriers to develop brand partnerships.
"Carriers are just trying to increase profits by any which way they can," Ms. Choi said. "With advertisers and app developers so eager to get in front of audiences, there is this intersection with the carriers, who are monetizing because they have to."