A New Kind of PSA

FairWinds Partners ⬥ 28 July

A new kind of Public Service Announcement (PSA) has arrived – the public service app.  It looks like smartphone apps are no longer limited to games, drink recipes, and social media platforms, meant purely to entertain us and keep us from having to interact with others during those oh-so-tedious minutes waiting for the elevator, bus, or metro.  According to CNN and Mashable, both the United States and UK governments have now released a handful of official apps for both the iPhone and Android that are designed to improve citizens’ quality of life.  Several US government agencies, including NASA, FEMA, and the EPA, have released apps to provide up-to-date information related to their activities, and both countries have released a variety of lifestyle apps designed to help citizens lose weight or get better gas mileage.  The UK has also created apps that are meant to help users quit smoking or find a job.

I think these lifestyle apps are very interesting.  They offer citizens additional, “on-the-ground” support for achieving goals set forth by government programs, like getting people to eat better, exercise more or quit smoking. These apps could boost participation in those programs by making such efforts more convenient, more manageable, or even more fun.

Just a few years ago, the Internet was the undisputed king of consumer engagement.  Directing citizens to a website equipped with facts, tips, and recommended plans-of-action is much more interactive, and usually more successful, than simply instructing viewers to take action via a television ad.  Now, however, smartphone apps are becoming the hottest way to engage customers.  Apps provide instant and individual programming to users every day no matter where they are — not just at their computers.  These two governments appear to understand that both consumer habits and forms of communication are rapidly changing, and they are aptly trying to adapt their messaging.

Most, if not all, of these apps have corresponding websites, and it is unlikely that the apps will cannibalize traffic from the websites already in place.  For extended visits and in-depth searching, consumers are still likely to prefer using their computer to a smartphone.  Instead, these apps will hopefully augment the existing sites and make consumers more likely to engage with and integrate the content into their daily lives.  If these apps catch on, the age of mobile marketing could work wonders for the PSA. 

Tags: Android, CNN, EPA, FEMA, Internet, iPhone, Mashable, NASA, PSA, Public Service Announcement, public service app, smartphone apps, UK, US

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