Hardees, Carl's Jr. Launch Mobile Apps With Check-ins

Fast Feeders Build Their Own Foursquare to Replace Plastic Loyalty Cards

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Add two more to the list of marketers trying to emulate Foursquare: fast-food chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr.

The two CKE Restaurant fast-food chains are launching their own loyalty mobile apps to reward customers for "checking in" at any one of their 3,000 locations around the country. The app, for iPhones and Android phones, called Happy Star Rewards, allows users to reveal their locations to CKE Retaurants in exchange for free food and prizes, as well as share it with friends through Facebook, Twitter and other networks.

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"As far we know, we're the first quick-service restaurant to combine the location-based tech with tangible rewards," said Brad Haley, exec VP of marketing for CKE.

Like popular location-based service Foursquare, Happy Star Rewards users will have to check-in at restaurants to be eligible for the rewards. After four check-ins, Hardee's or Carl's customers get a chance to spin "The Wheel of Awesome" for prizes, which mostly consist of food, but also include hard goods like Blu-ray players and video-game consoles. If a user decides to wait until the eighth visit, they're eligible for bigger prizes.

While the app doesn't come out until later this year, it sounds like a mishmash of location and brand apps. Like its standalone predecessors, Happy Star Rewards will also have social-media sharing, but contains the videos, store locator and product information more endemic to brand apps.

"Loyalty programs have been around since the dawn of marketing," said Mr. Haley. "But the paper-based or plastic-card loyalty program is becoming somewhat obsolete. We're having an app on your phone that goes with you everywhere rather than a card you don't want to carry around in your wallet."

Location-based apps like Foursquare get plenty of press, but they're far from mainstream. The Pew Research Center recently found that only 4% of online adults use services such as Foursquare or Gowalla and, in a single day, only 1% use them.

However, Mr. Haley says the chains are after 18- to 24-year-olds, and Pew finds that 8% of online adults between 18-29 use location-based services, "significantly more" than other age groups. Apps such as Loopt Star, Topguest and Shopkick work for multiple brands as one-stop mobile wallets for loyalty cards. But rather than work with one of the established players, CKE opted to build its own.

"If you are one of the first ones to offer a card in a mobile wallet, that's a huge advantage," Mr. Haley said. "Some of these multi-brand platforms are convenient, but it's irreligious, you're just one of many choices."

CKE has had plastic card-based loyalty programs in the past, but they were tough to administer and took a lot of resources to develop and maintain, Mr. Haley says. Plus, customers lost the cards.

"Every restaurant you go to wants to give you a card or loyalty program," he said. "But nobody's purses or wallets are big enough. Taking that and converting it to a digital format was a real opportunity."

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