Foursquare Rolls Out Targeted Ads, Adds New Way to Reach Engaged Users

AdAge had a great piece yesterday discussing Foursquare’s recent launch of targeted ads when users check-in. The idea is pretty straightforward, when a user checks-in to a location, they’re immediately displayed an ad that relates to that check-in.

Let’s look at an example. Say you’re at a bar, pop open your Foursquare app and check-in. Right as you complete your check-in, the app, now knowing your location, displays an ad for a specific drink, maybe a limited release beer that you didn’t know was available. You see the ad, think the drink sounds good and head to the bar to order one. It’s that easy. Foursquare knew your location and served up an advertisement that correlated directly with those details.

The good news for advocacy folks, while the ads are being rolled out to marketers of perishable and tangible products alike, it’s not a leap to transition the concept directly to your advocacy effort.

Quick Background
Foursquare is a location-based social networking tool that allows users to broadcast their location by registering their presence at a site. Users, having arrived at a specific location, be it business, public park or otherwise, fire up the tool – most often either the app or the website – and “check-in” or register their attendance. Each check-in is then broadcasted to a group of friends and makes the user eligible for awards (points, badges and more). Locations can also then provide “specials” to users when they check-in, allowing them to reward users for return visits – say 10% off their bill or a free drink.

New Targeted Ad Functionality
The idea with this new functionality is that it allows anyone to market their goods at a Foursquare check-in. In the past, users would be presented specials from that specific location. For example, a restaurant could immediately offer a discount for folks who’ve just checked-in. Now though, with these new ads, a user that checks-in can be presented with an advertisement or two from vendors of products & services provided at that location or nearby.

Imagine the possibilities.

There’s the quick answer of a check-in at a bar that then promotes, say, a Captain Morgan and Coke or a specific beer. But how about a check-in at an auto shop mechanic which then displays an ad for quick bites from the restaurant next door? Or a check-in on a weekday at a doctor’s office during the holidays which displays an ad for the nearby jewelry or electronics store.

The idea is simple: While the user is engaged with their phone, present to them a like-minded / related action.

  • For the bar, drink makers clamor to put their beverage in front of people. They know that merely a suggestion of a specific drink may ignite something within the user to order one, and once one is ordered, others nearby may get the urge to do the same.
  • For the auto-shop mechanic, this one is more complex but just as simple. If we know that the user is getting their car serviced and they have time to check-in from the mechanic – meaning they’re not walking right out the door – then maybe we entice them with something to eat at the conveniently located restaurant nearby.
  • The same for the user who’s out of the office on a weekday around the holidays. They’re already out of the office, they’re checking-in at a doctor’s office, maybe they’ve forgotten that gift for a special someone and didn’t know that your location was only minutes away.

In short, for a perishable/tangible item, the possibilities are nearly endless. And if Foursquare allows for videos to be embedded within the ads, that appetizer might look even more, well, appetizing. While one-to-one targeting isn’t available, additional data collected through click-throughs on the ads could give stores/food & beverage locations even more data and leads that they may not have had otherwise.

Now, here’s the good news for advocacy and engagement – this type of advertising and the concept behind it are easily transferable even without the enticing quesadilla appetizer or tasty beverage.

Advocacy Angle
What’s the application in the advocacy world? Thankfully, this too is rather straightforward. Just two of the angles:

  • Conferences / Large Meetings & Professionals
    For those companies or organizations who are large enough and have one or more conferences throughout the year, a simple ad targeted at users who check-in would be the straightforward, easy way to get professionals, especially of the young variety, involved in your advocacy effort.

    We hear time and again from associations wondering how they can gain access to / get more young professionals involved. Realizing that they need a varied approach and that young professionals are tied closely to their mobile devices, these targeted ads might play nicely into that strategy. A targeted ad like the one you see below and to the right might quickly engage those that previously didn’t know about your organization, or, if the need is more immediate, didn’t know the impact of a specific piece of legislation on the industry and/or their career.

    Let’s look specifically at the National Restaurant Association:

    Note: I am simply highlighting how an organization might take advantage of the new functionality available from Foursquare. Scenarios described below are entirely fictitious and simply ideas on how this might be implemented.

    The National Restaurant Association (NRA) “is the largest foodservice trade association in the world* – supporting nearly 500,000 restaurant businesses… representing and advocating for foodservice industry interests with state, local and national policymakers.” The NRA holds meetings throughout the year at venues all across North America. Now imagine if they were to include targeted ads with each check-in at those venues:

    • At a meeting in Washington, DC, the NRA might highlight the Old Ebbitt Grille’s history (founded in 1856) and contribution to the industry while pushing a sign-up to NRA’s industry leading newsletter.
    • In Philadelphia, a user checking-in might see a call-to-action on a food tax and immediately be able to click-through and reach out to their legislators.
    • In Los Angeles, users might be displayed an ad that asks them to share their story on what the restaurant industry has meant to them.

    The key is that we take users who are already engaging with the event and provide them a quick outlet to take another action. Whether it be writing a letter to a legislator or sharing their experiences within the industry, we quickly and easily get folks to take that next step to support our effort.

    Now just think if the NRA knew where every restaurateur was having their events throughout the year (and they do) and put targeted ads at each of those venues. You could speculate that individual membership and involvement numbers would increase across the board, drawing in new advocates even in that coveted young professional market.

  • Products & Consumers
    As we saw above, for drink makers and restaurants, targeted ads provide an easy way to suggest users order a specific drink at the bar or an appetizer at the restaurant next door while they’re having their car looked at. That said, another play exists.

    Why not use the targeted ad to convey directly to the consumer the impact of specific legislation on the price of products?

    A group like the American Beverage Association could be involved here. As a user checks-in at a restaurant, the ABA could present a targeted ad urging the consumer to take action – letting them know that if a bill passes, the drink they have in their hand may cost more or not be available the next time they visit. Imagine the aforementioned National Restaurant Association getting involved and pushing a similar ad on the meal the user is about to order. A quick association of product to cost and/or availability and the consumer, who may not have known anything about that piece of legislation previous to sitting down, will now have a one-touch way to get involved.

    Obviously this extends beyond food and beverage, a check-in at the repair shop might solicit a targeted ad from the Association of Global Automakers discussing legislation that affects that user’s car. A check-in at a big box store in DC in July 2013 might bring about a message on a bill currently in front of the DC Mayor. The possibilities and scenarios go on.

In short, the new targeted ads for Foursquare provide yet another way for organizations and companies to get their message in front of those that might be able to make a difference. Because it’s widely used and well-established, Foursquare and its new targeted ads provide a good option for getting your group’s proverbial foot in the door. Once again, there’s no silver bullet, but integrating yet another tool into your advocacy toolbox may open your cause up to eyes that may never have previously considered the impact of legislation to their jobs or the products they consume.