NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Those who call Facebook's new location feature a "Foursquare killer" might not want to speak so soon. Instead, a check in with advertisers reveals the brands that have embraced the space are sticking with location-based apps that made check-ins chic in the first place.
At least three brands -- Ford Motor, General Motors and PepsiCo -- all maintain they are no less likely to consider them for location programs, despite existing and "significant" relationships with Facebook. "I don't think there's anyone 'more attractive'; we're not looking at it that way," said Bonin Bough, PepsiCo's global director of digital and social media.
THE LITTLE GUYS
GOWALLA 250,000 USERS
FOURSQUARE 1.2 MILLION USERS
BRIGHTKITE 1.5 MILLION USERS
MYTOWN 2 MILLION USERS
LOOPT 3.5 MILLION USERS
Moreover, Facebook's privacy problem could be a stumbling block for some like Ford. "People will first have to take a hard look at Facebook's approach to privacy, which may make this new geo-location irrelevant," said Scott Monty, Ford Motor Co.'s global digital and multimedia communications manager.
"It's not exactly the right time for Facebook to ask users to share any more data on their network," said Augie Ray, social-computing analyst at Forrester.
To date, location-based startups fall into three loose buckets: social apps such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Buzzd that are tied to discovering restaurants, bars and other meeting places; gaming apps such as MyTown; and shopping apps such as Shopkick and Loopt that will release mobile check-in programs for retailers in coming weeks. Even Twitter and Google Latitude have launched geo-tagged tweets and a location-based social network, respectively.
|MOBILE IS THE NEXT BIG THING|
|Silicon Valley is gearing up for the next breakthrough. So what's your strategy? This 38-page Ad Age Insights white paper, with 35 charts of key facts, tells you how many and what kind of devices consumers are using, which companies are tracking them and which mobile tactics will align best with your marketing goals.|
Facebook's plans for location are not yet clear, but the new feature does appear to include geo-tagged status messages and an API where developers -- including the location-based apps -- could build geo-services on top of its platform. TechCrunch reports the service will be called "Places," though Facebook would not confirm or provide further detail.
For Mr. Bough, the Foursquare experience is enough to keep Pepsi with the startup, for now. "They are the early pioneers and they have a unique knowledge base that is not going to be replicated by new entrants, at least not anytime soon," he said. Plus, with Pepsi's massive scale and global distribution, the platform's size is less of an issue. "We can help these platforms scale," he said. "If the content is good enough, we can help make it big. Location is so new; we need nothing but smart folks working with us."
Then there are the users. Though the startups' millions-strong audience can't stack up to Facebook's users, they are a desirable demographic. "If you are a brand that hasn't been considered leading edge or hip, it's a great way to become relevant to an extremely attractive audience," said Christopher Barger, General Motors Co.'s director-social media, who tested the automaker's first mobile social program with Gowalla in March.
Where it counts
But some remain skeptical about how these programs -- beyond their PR value -- will affect a marketer's bottom line. "We have to prove we can be more than cool and sexy; we have to prove we can move product on the same scale as Google or traditional media," said Justin Siegel, CEO-cofounder of the mobile social network MocoSpace.
"For truly mass-market products like McDonald's, I don't think there's any question on which platform you should advertise on," said Gabe Zichermann, CEO of mobile social startup BeamMe and author of "Game-based Marketing." "If you're looking for an influencer crowd, Foursquare is still an attractive platform."
So far, that value proposition differs by app for both users and advertisers. Next week, Loopt is expected to launch a loyalty-card app, where users can redeem check-ins for rewards with its brand partners. Gowalla has positioned itself as a travel app (its badges are called "stamps" and they aggregate in a "passport") and launched trip itineraries for brands such as National Geographic. Meanwhile, Foursquare has launched programs with Bravo and the History Channel where users can unlock branded content. "It's going to be about differentiated value," said Sam Altman, CEO of Loopt. "I doubt [Facebook] will have the most sophisticated offer for marketers."
"No one knows what Facebook will do, but the argument is the same: Checking in by itself is not that interesting," said Tristan Walker, Foursquare's head of business development. "It's about the value on top of that check-in."