Marketing Lessons From Flappy Bird

Now, don’t get me wrong. When Flappy Bird first became popular (more than half the people in the office were playing it and comparing high scores on an almost daily basis), I just thought it was a stupid game, one of those trending things like Candy Crush and Angry Birds and that minion game that’s based on Temple Run.


I struggled to even get a score of 10 as it was.

But at the same time, I realized that as marketers, we could actually learn from the whole Flappy Bird fiasco.

If you were somehow living without Internet access for the past week or so, then let me enlighten you.

Flappy Bird was a game application for the Android and iOS platforms created by a Vietnamese developer named Dong Nguyen, that went absolutely viral over the past few weeks.

Nobody’s sure why it became so popular, because it also happens to be one of the most frustrating games ever created.

Basically you have to guide a little bird over the screen by tapping to control the flight path, and navigate it through a maze of green pipes gaining one point for each pipe you pass. If you hit anything, the bird dies and you lose, and your score is calculated based on how many pipes you managed to pass.


Yes, my highest score was 10. Trust me, you have to play like 50 times just to get the hang of passing the first pipe…

But I digress. So now you know what Flappy Bird is.

The situation escalated, when just last weekend, the game’s developer announced that he didn’t like the publicity he was getting for the game, and was going to remove the app from the Android/iOS app stores.

Cue thousands of people rushing to download it before he did.

But even though the app is gone, people are still talking about it all over social media. Flappy Bird’s legacy remains.

And you won’t believe some of the marketing gimmicks that are going on now just because it’s no longer in the app store. Check out this article from Mashable, for example.

So what can we learn from the rise and fall of Flappy Bird?

Definitely not “if your product is doing well and making you approximately $50,000 a day in ad revenue, you should take it off the market.”

Instead, here’s what we can take away:

1. When it comes to products, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Flappy Bird was one of the simplest iOS games to play ever. The concept was easy to understand, it had 8-bit graphics, didn’t even have a game soundtrack – the developer himself even claimed he coded the game in 2-3 days.

And yet it was downloaded over 50 million times by people from all over the world.

A product doesn’t have to have bells and whistles on it to sell well. Even if it’s something that you think has been done many times before – as long as it’s something that actually solves a problem, does what you’re selling, and has a reasonable price, it can do well. 

With all the games out there now with the latest technology and 3D-esque graphics, Flappy Bird still managed to outsell some of them, proving that even something simple can be a good product.

2. Word-of-mouth advertising isn’t dead yet.

People Marching with Bullhorns

Advertising is still important, but it would seem that word-of-mouth advertising in particular is still something to consider, especially if your business is connected to social media.

There was no big PR firm hired, no huge advertising campaign – it was the fans themselves who spread the word about the game and kept pushing the app in front of their friends and family and everyone else on their news feeds.

3. Plan for success, not failure.

You may be a start-up, or have been in business for years, but this would still apply. You never know what product could make your business known and catapult you to sudden success.

If and when success comes along, you want to make sure you don’t respond like Nguyen. Instead, be prepared, and know how to capitalize on it to grow your business.

Don’t plan on success, but plan for it.

If your product ends up being the next Flappy Bird, would you be ready for whatever comes next?

4. Challenge your target audience.

One thing I’ve learned from this whole experience – people like challenges.

Nobody would have guessed that such a frustrating, simple game would end up so popular.

Flappy Bird was supposed to be one of those mindless games you can play on the way home from work, or to relieve stress while waiting for your food to reach your table – but it’s incredibly annoying at the same time because of how easy it is to die, and how difficult it is to achieve an impressive high score.

But everyone loves it. And when playing, if they lose, they’re motivated to try again and try harder.

That’s a completely new concept: that people like challenges. If you challenge your audience, your product has more of a chance to go viral.

So if you want your next marketing campaign to go viral, it’s not a bad idea to consider doing something that challenges your target market and makes them want to share.

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