App advertising and reputation management

An unexpected negative brand association

A couple of weeks ago I was going through my emails and found something interesting. Having to skim through mediocre app review requests on my inbox, I don't spend more than ten or fifteen seconds with each. This one was special. A promotional email from MacPaw, the developers of CleaMyMac and other Mac software I use, telling me about their new music player for iOS. Since I have bought from them before and subscribe to most indie developer email lists, it wasn't surprising to find this on my inbox.

The curious part was that the email came from 'MacPaw Inc (via MacHeist)' using the @macheist.com address. At the bottom of the email it explained "You're getting this email since you've received a MacPaw product through MacHeist". I have purchased most MacHeist bundles in the past and probably agreed to receive promotional emails like this from time to time. Seeing this email list being used for promotional purposes is not new: in the last four years I have received messages from Mariner Software, Hog Bay, Iconfactory, Realmac, TapTapTap, Ambrosia, Irradiated, RJV and MacPaw before. I'm guessing developers participating in these bundles negotiate access to the MacHeist email list as part of the deal or something similar, which sounds fair.

The reason why I'm surprised is because the developer TapTapTap — allegedly "the people who bring you MacHeist" — has been very controversial in certain circles in the past. One questionable move was to call out Realmac Software's Clear app on the release notes of its popular Camera+ app, criticising the decision to sell a new version of the app for users to "pay for it all over again". This could easily be an insider joke (Phill Ryu has collaborated both with MacHeist and Realmac in the past) or silly sense of humour (Realmac has worked with MacHeist before). In any case, for those who are not aware of the context or any previous relationship, TapTapTap comes across as arrogant.

Months later I still remember the Clear incident. Realmac Software got a lot of internet hate from users upset thinking they had to pay again for the same app. Without going into the app pricing dilemma, the company reacted quickly and showed its side of the coin in what must have been a very tricky crisis communication decision. When I got the email from MacPaw and saw the MacHeist name, it immediately came to my mind again. Who would like to associate their brand with the people that joke about the misfortunes of other developers?

In a quick exchange on Twitter, MacPaw's marketing person showed interest in my tweet and apologised for any unwanted email. It didn't sound like he had witnessed any of the negative comments about the Camera+ release notes though.

Reputation and endorsements

Last weekend I heard the MacPaw name again thanks to a podcast sponsorship of a show on 5by5 — could have easily been The Prompt. This is another kind of advertising, a complete different medium with an audience that, I reckon, overlaps quite a bit with the MacHeist email list: people interested in Mac software who dedicate part of their free time to learn about it.

Aside from conversion rates and prices, there is a clear difference between the two types of advertising. For the listener, podcast advertisers seem to be handpicked, vetted and even endorsed, somehow, by the host of the show. For many listeners this is going to be a direct endorsement from a person you respect. In contrast, the campaign using MacHeist's email list comes with a brand association; it’s being facilitated by people that come across as arrogant. If users have cared to write about their discomfort and deleted Camera+ from their iPhones in rage, this is a much riskier endorsement that can affect a company's reputation negatively.