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Can Ads Actually Make Foursquare Better

Authors: Jay Baer Jay Baer
Posted Under: Digital Marketing
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In this edition of The Baer Facts, I talk with Kyle Lacy of ExactTarget about the newly launched Foursquare ads, and whether they are a viable option for marketers, an annoyance for users, both or neither.

Whither the Check-In?

In April, Bloomberg cited Foursquare data showing 6 million daily check-ins in January 2013 versus 4 million per day in January 2012. I have no reason to doubt their data, but anecdotally I see “check-in” waning, at least amongst the people I follow in social media. To me at least, the benefit of short-term offers and mayorships is becoming less attractive, and I was never enamored with (or really understood) the “points” accumulation on Foursquare. Plus, now more mobile users keep location turned on, automatically appending their locale to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine posts. This makes location an element of a social behavior, rather than requiring a distinct check-in behavior to demonstrate location. (Important note here: Foursquare itself has wisely become the “location layer” for the social Web, with many of these other applications using the 4SQ locations database, including Vine).

Out Yelping Yelp?

I’m on record as being a fan of Foursquare’s strategic pivot toward real-time, location-aware advice and counsel. I’ve uncovered several excellent restaurants, and things-to-do gems via Foursquare during my travels, and accessing that data is, of course, mobile-friendly. For me, it’s often better than the increasingly broad and noisy Yelp. I find Foursquare’s recommendations to be better curated and more accurate.

Foursquare ads.jpgSo on one hand, “checking in” is falling out of favor (I believe), and on the other hand, Foursquare is (finally) finding their true calling as a personalized source of localized recommendations. Which is why I was so interested in their new advertising product that appends targeted offers when users check-in. This screen shot from shows an example of a user receiving a 20% off coupon for BabiesRus and ToysRus after checking in at a public swimming pool

Advertising as Youtility

One of the great promises and premises of hyper-targeted advertising is that it can be “smart” enough to give you an offer for something you really want, at the exact moment you want it. Alas, this rarely happens. The alchemy of advertising with inherent value – ads as Youtility, if you will – is more unicorn than horse, for now.

But might Foursquare’s new ad units help us get there? If the ads only show when you check-in, and those ads will be targeted based on where and when you check-in, it’s entirely possible that those ads could become valuable based on extreme relevance. The devil is in the details, of course. Specifically in this case, the devil is in how tight the segments are when companies buy these ads, and how much Foursquare insists on location and circumstance-based relevance within the creative.

Does Foursquare Have Google’s Courage?

This sets up the same dynamic as Google has with its AdWords. Companies that are smart and targeted, reap rewards. Companies that aren’t are penalized economically through clicks that don’t convert. And Google – much to its credit – also penalizes those companies algorithmically, by not showing their ads if their landing pages aren’t tuned, and if they don’t historically generate a decent click-through rate. Will Foursquare have the same courage Google has shown and purposefully turn away potentially lucrative advertisers due to lack of relevance? I kind of doubt it. It’s also intriguing that Foursquare is only charging advertisers for these new ads when users save the ad or click on them…..just like Google.


But for me, if I have at least a decent shot of not only getting a native check-in reward, but now also a relevant ad for a related product or service based on that behavior, I may just start checking-in again. 

How about you?


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