Here's how brands can finally breakthrough the bottleneck that is Foursquare's new business department: Build an ad program on the platform itself.
For Showtime, Omnicom's OMD built a check-in program without the help of the hot startup by plugging into its data hose, the Foursquare API.
To promote the July 13 premiere of reality series "The Franchise: A Season With the San Francisco Giants," OMD Ignition Factory group partnered with Major League Baseball to create a billboard display that dispenses baseballs, some signed by Giants, when people check in on Foursquare at the MLB Fan Cave storefront in Manhattan. For those who automatically share their Foursquare posts to either Twitter or Facebook or both -- which accounts for roughly a quarter of people on Foursquare, according to OMD's Trevor Guthrie -- a show ad and tune-in message is automatically sent to those social-media accounts.
While OMD tapped a Foursquare tutorial, the project was built largely independent of the startup, using its publicly available API.
"There have been some independent experiments, working off our API, to do things like this," said Foursquare Director of Business Development Jonathan Crowley. "But for a media company and MLB to create this kind of experience, I've never seen anything like this before. It's an amazing display.
He cited examples of big brands using Foursquare to drive incentives and deals, but programming an action through the Foursquare API is new, aside from a couple of local and international campaigns: Earlier this year, a German dog food company tasked consumers to walk their dogs and check in at billboard ads that were programmed to release treats. Another more local example, he noted, is a recent party in Brooklyn with a door that guests had to unlock by checking in on Foursquare.
"Enabling us to do this with a billboard in New York is actually enabling us to reach out to other people outside of New York with the franchise message," said George DeBolt, senior VP-media, promotions and partnership marketing at Showtime. "When I had to sell it to the CMO -- he doesn't like us to spend a lot of money on small tactics -- I said it may seem like a small tactic but it has a viral element that 's really big."
The undisclosed cost was also likely a selling point. MLB, which is as invested in the new show as Showtime, owned the billboard space so placement was free, and use of the Foursquare API was free. The only real cost existed in production of the digital billboard, via the help of vendor Monster Media.
Why aren't more brands using the API in this way and why did it take so long for the first ones to get on board?
Mr. Crowley explained that the concept of location-based platforms is still new for most big brands and it's taken time for Foursquare to make the API more accessible and user-friendly. "Like all new technologies, it takes large brands some time to get comfortable understanding the value of these platforms and how to leverage the user base. Now, there's a ton more exciting stuff they can do with our location data. As Foursquare has become more mainstream, they're excited to start experimenting with our API."