There are several things of which I’m certain.
I know, for example, that Argentines are pretty creative when it comes to dishing out insults and complaining. If you’ve ever watched from a distance anytime you’re near a crash scene on the streets of Buenos Aires, you probably know what I mean.
I’m also very certain, and I’m sure the reader would agree, that customer service in this country is not exactly what you would call “world class.” Given this reality, how is it that there isn’t an app for people to unload all their angst in the form of an unfiltered, profanity-laced tirade?
Well, I’m here to tell you that such gift from the gods not only exists, but it can also convert all your obscenities into a legal document which you can actually *use* to solve your problems. And on top of that, it has the greatest name you could possibly think of.
Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to PuteApp.
Gerson and Nico are the two young entrepeneurs that started Avalon 3, the agency behind PuteApp. Their short but productive partnership has seen them working with big names like Renault and Brahma, but it has also taken them through some downright weird ventures. They’ve worked with bull semen for a prestigious meat company, thought of creative ways to sell sex toys, and are in the early stages of an app that connects people sitting on their toilets, just to name a few of their projects. “Here at Avalon, we usually like to work with creative and disruptive ideas,” explains Nico. “We like to work outside of our comfort zone, with ideas that are out of the ordinary and eye-catching.”
Given this penchant for the unusual, it was perfectly normal for Fabio Mazia, a creative director for Publicis, to approach the guys from Avalon with the idea for an app to channel the frustration he felt was palpable in the city. “We always imagined Fabio grumbling on for several days because his Internet had gone down and saying: ‘We should probably invent something for this,'” Gerson explains with a laugh. “But the fact was that it was Fabio who came to us with the idea for some virtual reality to translate anger stemming from particular problems [of daily life].”
After Fabio approached them, Gerson and Nico got to work. What they found through research was that the culture of customer service in contemporary Buenos Aires had gone stale.
Gerson: “When you call to complain, they shower you with some music and just make you wait until you kind of give up… It’s a really old strategy, based on people from the previous generation. We’re all victims of the monopoly of companies. In other countries, companies are always trying to see how they can do things better than the next one. But here, there’s this mentality that ‘well, we have the whole market, let them complain. We’ll charge them anyway and then they can make their formal demand and we can discount whatever from their next bill’. And you sort of get tired of that.”
Nico: “To this day, there are places you can only complain to via telephone. I’m not really sure if this app would actually work in a place like Switzerland or something like that.”
Gerson: “It’s very common for people to block roads and street traffic to be heard. Why? Because we’ve created this stereotype that established that’s the only way to be taken seriously. But we believe it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Nico: “The idea for the app is that you can vent your anger and not go out and kill somebody. It’s sort of a filter. I think we’re probably doing a good thing for humanity (laughs).”
So how exactly does PuteApp work? First you download it to your smartphone. Then you record a voice message, with the only condition that you have to mention a company in your tirade (the app only works with service companies, for now). Then the app translates your words into a legal document, with carefully redacted wording derived from hours and hours of meetings with local lawyers. The idea is that this document, although not legally binding, may be the first step toward solving your particular issue. “The letter reflects your discontent and allows you to initiate a formal complaint,” explains Gerson. “After the company responds to your demand, you have to continue the process with an attorney.”
The process seems simple enough, but reaching this user-friendly interface took a lot of trial and error. For one thing, the transcribed letter that results from the initial voice message is powered by Google and it wouldn’t originally recognize certain profanities. For example “puto,” which as you might expect is one of the most used words, would only be seen in characters such as exclamation signs. So the boys had to develop an extensive database to fill out the most common expressions. “La concha de tu hermana,” “la puta que te parió,” and many others had to be manually added. “An Excel sheet filled with the nastiest language available,” as Nico puts it.
Another issue that arose during their first tests for the app was that in essence, for a complaint letter to be included in a legal process against a company, it must be sent through official post, mainly Correo Argentino. This goes against the app’s main target audience, millennials, who are used to doing most of their complaining through social media. “My 15 year-old brother was in one of those first test groups for the app and I probably couldn’t pay him to go to the post office to send a letter,” Nico explains. “He probably doesn’t even know what a letter is.” With this in mind, the guys established that PuteApp would give the customer a printable version of their complaint letter as well as a digital version which could be shared through Facebook or other social media platforms. “You can tag a company with your letter and that can also have a big impact. By sharing through your social media you can try to make it go viral as well.”
Even though the app is in constant development and is available in a Beta version, the official launch was last December, smack dab in the middle of summer, which made electric companies such as Edesur and Edenor, the ideal targets for PuteApp users, thanks to the constant blackouts that plague Buenos Aires during those months. The other companies that received the most complaints during the first weeks were, not surprisingly, cable companies, cell phone providers and, of course, the AFIP. “People would actually post their angry messages in the comment section of our Facebook page. That’s how anxious they were. They would tag their friends and say: ‘finally, an app for us’.”
The number of downloads show that PuteApp has hit a collective nerve in Argentine society. Nico and Gerson are currently busy on evaluating the full potential of their creation, developing, for example, a wider curse sheet that includes regional slang. “The idea is that you could use “culiao” from Cordoba or “chinga tu madre” from Mexico and mix it up with a geolocalization system so that the app is customized for every sort of user,” explains Gerson. Other innovations include making a ranking of the companies with the most complaints or even opening up the game to non-business entities for short periods of time.
“It would have really come in handy during the last World Cup to bitch against Higuain or Rodrigo Palacios in the final match.” And, of course, there is the ultimate, controversial frontier: opening up the app to any sort of company, not only the service ones that are currently available.
When faced with this idea, the boys are cautious yet conscious of their “disruptive” DNA. “We’re an advertising agency and our clients are usually companies, so we are aware that we would be partially boycotting ourselves,” they explain. “But, at the same time, if companies do their job well, then people won’t insult them, right?”