This sounds familiar? This is what happens when an app becomes viral via social media. It often includes TikTok. Then it climbs immediately to the top in the App Store, where it gets even more installs due to its increased exposure. This is what happened to the latest No. 1 on the U.S. App Store, Fontmaker, a subscription-based fonts app which appeared to benefit from word-of-mouth growth thanks to TikTok videos and other social posts. But what we’re actually seeing here is a new form of App Store marketing — and one which now involves one of the oldest players in the space: Vungle.
Fontmaker appears to be another popular indie app.
Mango Labs published the app. It promises that users can create fonts with their handwriting. They then have access to them from a customized keyboard. The price is $4.99 per week. It was launched in July 26th. It was No. 2 on the App Store almost a month later. Sensor Tower data shows that it was the No. 2 app in the U.S. App store. It climbed one position more to No. 26 on August 26. It dropped slowly in the rankings of the best free apps in the following days.
It was No. 27 by Aug. 15 before it briefly rose to No. 4, before falling again the next day. The app currently ranks No. The app is currently No. 54 in the overall ranking and No. 54 overall and No. 4 in the Photo & Video competitive category. This is still a strong position for a niche product that targets a younger audience. Sensor Tower says that it has generated $68,000 of revenue to date.
Fontmaker is not an organic success story despite the fact that it reached Top Charts thanks to a surge in users downloading Fontmaker’s app, and not robots. It’s a great example of mobile marketers tapping into influencer communities to increase app downloads. This is also an example how difficult it can be to distinguish between apps that are driven by influencers and those that have true demand, such as Zello’s walkie-talkie application. 1. Hurricane Ida
Fontmaker, as it turns out isn’t your average “indie app,” it actually has a publisher, Mango Labs, LLC. It’s not clear who it really belongs to. Mango Labs, LLC, Fontmaker’s publisher, owns an iTunes developer account. This account is owned by JetFuel, a mobile growth company. Vungle, a long-standing and controversial player in the space, acquired it in 2018.
Vungle was most interested in JetFuel’s main product, The Plug which is aimed at influencers.
Mobile app developers can use The Plug to connect with JetFuel’s over 15,000 verified influencers. They have an combined total of 4 billion Instagram followers and 1.5 billion TikTok users. There are also 100 million daily Snapchat Views.
JetFuel claims that marketers can use these built-in tools to reach their targeted audience. However, JetFuel’s technology enables them to rapidly scale up their campaigns and reach highly-valued users within the Gen Z population. In some cases, this system is less labor-intensive that traditional influencer marketing. App installs are paid on a cost per action (CPA basis) by advertisers. To make money, influencers simply need to scroll through The Plug and find the app they want to promote.
While it is true that many influencers made TikTok videos on Fontmaker which encouraged consumers to download the app and were compensated for their efforts, We saw that Fontmaker was used a lot on TikTok. This is a problem which has become more common and is causing concern to the FTC.
The problem is when Mango Labs has to resolve its relationship with JetFuel/Vungle. It appears that Mango Labs has a wide range of consumer apps, Fontmaker being the most recent.
JetFuel’s site helps promote that image too.
The company had previously showcased their influencer marketing systems using a case from Mango Labs, an “indie developer”, and Caption Pro (an earlier app). Caption Pro was launched Jan. 2018. According to App Annie data, Caption Pro was launched in Jan 2018.
Vungle however stated to TechCrunch that “The Caption Pro App no longer exists” (We are unable to find any App Annie records of this app on Google Play).
We were also informed by them that Caption Pro was created before JetFuel existed, and that this case study was meant to showcase JetFuel’s advertising capabilities. They did not disclose their relationship.
The company created apps for the App store before JetFuel became the influential marketing platform it is today. The company shifted to becoming a marketing platform in February 2018. It stopped making apps, but used the Mango Labs account to occasionally publish third-party monetization partners with.
This means that, while Mango Labs, at first, was created by the same people who later became JetFuel and are the creators of Caption Pro, JetFuel did not create all new apps under the “Mango Labs, LLC”.
According to the spokesperson, “Any apps appearing under Mango Labs LLC on Google Play or App Store were actually developed by other companies and Mango Labs only served as a publisher.”
This statement is flawed for many reasons. JetFuel partners are happy to conceal their identities behind Mango Labs, and Mango Labs has been a JetFuel project in the past. It’s also odd that Mango Labs and another entity, Takeoff Labs, claim the same set of apps. JetFuel is also associated with Takeoff Labs.
This is how it works: Mango Labs published several consumer apps in the App Store as well as Google Play.
This includes iOS’s most recent No. Fontmaker is the No. 1 iOS app, along with FontKey, Color Meme and Litstick. Vibe, Celebs. FITme Fitness. CopyPaste. It also has Stickered and Mango on Google Play.
Many of Mango Labs App Store listings list JetFuel as the “developer site” for the app. This would match Vungle’s statement about JetFuel being the publisher.
It is odd that Part2 of the Mango Labs app links to Takeoff Labs website via its App Store listing.
Initial statements by Vungle’s spokesperson stated that Takeoff Labs was “an independent app development company.”
Yet, Takeoff Labs’ website displays a JetFuel team that includes JetFuel CEO Tim Lenardo, JetFuel founder and CRO JJMaxwell. Takeoff Labs’ LLC application was also signed by Lenardo.
Meanwhile, Takeoff Labs’ co-founder and CEO Rhai Goburdhun, per his LinkedIn and the Takeoff Labs website, still works there. Vungle said that they didn’t realize Takeoff Labs had been downdated and that neither JetFuel or Vungle own any stakes in Takeoff Labs.
Takeoff Labs’ website also shows off its “portfolio” of apps, which includes Celeb, Litstick, and FontKey — three apps that are published by Mango Labs on the App Store.
Takeoff Labs has Celebs on Google Play. They also have Vibe, Teal and Neobank. Mango Labs publishes Vibe on the App store.
(Not to complicate things further, but there’s also an entity called RealLabs which hosts JetFuel, The Plug and other consumer apps, including Mango — the app published by Mango Labs on Google Play. It’s not unusual for someone to call things “Labs!”
Vungle asserts that the confusion is due to the way it uses Mango Labs iTunes to publish apps to its partners. This practice is “common” in the App Store. Because it finds this confusing, Vungle claims it will transfer apps that were published by Mango Labs’ to developers’ accounts.
Vungle claims JetFuel also “doesn’t make or own any consumer applications that are available on the app store.” All of the Mango Labs apps that were created by JetFuel have been removed from the App Stores.
JetFuel’s system may be confusing and messy, but it has so far been successful in achieving its goals. Fontmaker made it to the top. Fontmaker was essentially a growth hacker who climbed to the top through influencer marketing.
As a consumer this means that the creator of the app or any other information will never be disclosed to you.
Fontmaker is not the only one to use influencer marketing to grow its business. Summertime hit Poparrazzi also hyped itself to the top of the App Store in a similar way, as have many others. However, Poparazzi is now No. 89 in Photo & Video. This shows that influence is only a limited resource.
Fontmaker was No. 1 because of its paid influence. Fontmaker reached No. 1, but it was only briefly in the Top Charts.
Publiated at Wednesday, 01 Sep 2021 21.18:04 +0000