How a Vungle-owned mobile marketer sent Fontmaker to the top of the App Store – TechCrunch

Does this sound familiar to you? One app goes viral on social media, often including TikTok, and then immediately climbs to the top of the App Store where it gains even more new installs through increased exposure. This is what happened with the recent # 1 in the US App Store, Fontmaker, a subscription-based fonts app that appears to be benefiting from the growth of word-of-mouth thanks to TikTok videos and others. social publications. But what we’re actually seeing here is a new form of marketing on the App Store – and one that now involves one of the oldest players in the space: Vungle.

Fontmaker, at first glance, seems like just another hard hitting indie app.

The app, released by an entity called Mango Labs, promises users a way to create fonts using their own handwriting which they can then access from a custom keyboard for a pretty steep price of $ 4.99 per week. The app first launched on July 26. Almost a month later, it was the # 2 app on the US App Store, according to data from Sensor Tower. On August 26, it climbed one more position to No. 1 before slowly slipping back down the overall free apps rankings in the days that followed.

On August 27, it was at # 15, before rising briefly to # 4 the next day, then dropping again. Today, the app is # 54 overall and # 4 in the competitive photo and video category – still a solid position for a brand new, somewhat niche product primarily targeting younger users. To date, it has generated $ 68,000 in revenue, Sensor Tower reports.

But Fontmaker may not be a real organic success story, despite being successful in Top Charts thanks to an increase in downloads from real users, not bots. Instead, it’s an example of how mobile marketers figured out how to tap into the influencer community to generate app installs. It’s also an example of how difficult it is to differentiate between apps focused on influencer marketing and those that rise to the top of the App Store because of genuine demand – like the walkie-talkie app. Zello, whose recent trip to No.1 can be attributed to Hurricane. Ida.

It turns out that Fontmaker is not your typical “standalone” application. In fact, it is not clear who is really behind this. Its publisher, Mango Labs, LLC, is actually an iTunes developer account owned by mobile growth company JetFuel, which was recently acquired by mobile advertising and monetization firm Vungle – a long-standing and sometimes controversial player in this space, itself acquired by Blackstone in 2019.

Vungle was primarily interested in JetFuel’s main product, an app called The Plug, aimed at influencers.

Using The Plug, mobile app developers and advertisers can connect to the JetFuel network of over 15,000 verified influencers totaling 4 billion Instagram followers, 1.5 billion TikTok subscribers and 100 million daily views on Snapchat.

While marketers could use the built-in advertising tools on each of these networks to try to reach their target audience, JetFuel’s technology allows marketers to quickly tailor their campaigns to reach high-value users of Generation Z, says the company. This system can be less laborious than traditional influencer marketing in some cases. Advertisers pay at cost per action (CPA) for app installs. Meanwhile, all influencers have to do is browse The Plug to find an app to promote and then post it to their social accounts to start making money.

Image credits: The Plug site, showing influencers how the platform works

So while yes, many influencers may have made TikTok videos on Fontmaker which made consumers download the app, influencers were paid to do so. (And often, from what we’ve seen scouring the hashtag Fontmaker, without disclosing this financial relationship in any way – an increasingly common problem on TikTok and a matter of concern for the FTC.)

Where things get tricky is in trying to sort out Mango Labs’ relationship with JetFuel / Vungle. As a consumer browsing the App Store, it looks like Mango Labs is making a lot of fun consumer apps of which Fontmaker is just the latest.

The JetFuel website also helps promote this image.

He had showcased his influencer marketing system using a case study from a “freelance developer” called Mango Labs and one of his old apps, Caption Pro. Caption Pro launched in January 2018. (App Annie data indicates it was removed from the App Store on August 31, 2021 … yes, yesterday).

Image credits: App Annie

Vungle, however, told TechCrunch “The Caption Pro app is no longer available and has not been available on the App Store or Google Play for a long time.” (We cannot find an App Annie recording of the app on Google Play).

They also told us that “Caption Pro was developed by Mango Labs before the entity became JetFuel,” and that the case study was used to highlight the advertising capabilities of JetFuel. (But without clearly revealing their connection.)

“Before JetFuel became the influencer marketing platform it is today, the company developed applications for the App Store. After the company pivoted to being a marketing platform, in February 2018 it stopped building apps, but continued to use the Mango Labs account on occasion to publish apps it had partnerships with. third-party monetization, ”explained the spokesperson for Vungle.

In other words, the claim made here is that while Mango Labs originally were the same people who long since pivoted to become JetFuel, and the creators of Caption Pro, all new apps released under “Mango Labs, LLC “were not created by the JetFuel team itself.

“All of the apps that appear under the Mango Labs LLC name on the App Store or Google Play have in fact been developed by other companies, and Mango Labs has only acted as publisher,” said the spokesperson.

Image credits: JetFuel website describing Mango Labs as an “independent developer”

There are reasons why this statement doesn’t fit – and not just because the JetFuel partners seem happy to be hiding behind the Mango Labs name, nor because Mango Labs was a project of the JetFuel team in the past. . It’s also strange that Mango Labs and another entity, Takeoff Labs, are claiming the same set of apps. And like Mango Labs, Takeoff Labs is also associated with JetFuel.

Breaking this down, at the time of writing, Mango Labs has released several consumer apps to the App Store and Google Play.

On iOS, this includes the recent # 1 Fontmaker app, as well as FontKey, Color Meme, Litstick, Vibe, Celebs, FITme Fitness, CopyPaste, and Part 2. On Google Play, it has two more: Stickered and Mango.

Image credits: Mango Labs

Most Mango Labs App Store listings point to JetFuel’s website as the app’s “developer’s website”, which would be consistent with what Vungle says about JetFuel acting as publisher. applications.

What’s odd, however, is that Mango Labs ‘Part2 app links to Takeoff Labs’ website from its App Store listing.

The spokesperson for Vungle first told us that Takeoff Labs is “an independent application developer”.

And yet, the Takeoff Labs website shows a team made up of JetFuel’s management, including JetFuel co-founder and CEO Tim Lenardo and JetFuel co-founder and CRO JJ Maxwell. The Takeoff Labs LLC app was also signed by Lenardo.

Meanwhile, Takeoff Labs co-founder and CEO Rhai Goburdhun, according to his LinkedIn site and Takeoff Labs website, is still working on it. When asked about this connection, Vungle told us that they did not realize that the website had not been updated, and neither JetFuel nor Vungle have a stake in Takeoff Labs with this acquisition.

Image credits: Takeoff Labs website featuring their team, including the JetFuel co-founders.

The Takeoff Labs website also features its “portfolio” of apps, which includes Celeb, Litstick and FontKey, three apps published by Mango Labs on the App Store.

On Google Play, Takeoff Labs is the credited developer of Celebs, along with two other apps, Vibe and Teal, a neobank. But on the App Store, Vibe is published by Mango Labs.

Image credits: Takeoff Labs website, showcasing its portfolio of applications.

(Not to complicate matters further, but there is also an entity called RealLabs that hosts JetFuel, The Plug, and other consumer apps including Mango – the app published by Mango Labs on Google Play. properly name things “Labs!”)

Vungle says the confusion here has to do with how he now uses Mango Labs’ iTunes account to publish apps for his partners, which is “common practice” on the App Store. He indicates that he intends to transfer applications published under Mango Labs to developer accounts, as it should be confusing.

Vungle also claims that JetFuel “does not create or own any consumer apps currently live on app stores. All apps created by the entity when it was known as Mango Labs have long since been removed from app stores.

JetFuel’s system is messy and confusing, but so far it has been successful in achieving its goals. Fontmaker hit number 1, essentially growth hacked by influencer marketing.

But as a consumer, all of this means you’ll never know who actually created the app you download or if you’ve been “swayed” to try it out through mostly undisclosed ads.

Fontmaker isn’t the first to make his way to the top thanks to influencer promotions. Poparrazzi’s summer success also rose to the top of the App Store in the same way, like many others. But Poparazzi has since fallen to # 89 in both photo and video, showing the influence can only get you so far.

As for Fontmaker, the paying influence took him to No.1, but his Top Chart moment was brief.

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