Posted December 16, 2013 4:36 pm by with 3 comments

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washington-dc-on-the-map-1-369936-mMarketers have been using geotargeting on the web to serve up appropriate ads for a long while. We’re all used to it and not at all creeped out when we’re surfing the web and see an ad for a local retailer. But with mobile, it’s different. I don’t know why but we all get a little chill when there’s talk of using cell phone geolocation technology to deliver ads and other information.

Mobile feels more personal and more immediate. Someone can track me based on my IP address but that just gets them in the neighborhood not to my house. . . . right? (I hope.) If you’re tracking my cell phone, you know exactly where I am. Exactly. And that gets scary. Admittedly, in 99.9% of cases it’s not a security threat but it still feels like one.

Along comes Foursquare whose entire business plan is based on knowing where people are at any given moment. The saving grace is that people have to choose to share their information. I’m aware that when I check-in at the local burger joint, I’m sharing my bad eating habits with the world.

Wired says Foursquare is thinking of turning the tables. They’re testing a program that delivers an ad to a user as soon as he steps in or near a specified establishment. No check-in required. Seymour walks into the Old Navy store and instantly gets a push notification with a coupon for 20% off. Hooray! A deal.

Oh, wait. How did you know I was in Old Navy. . . . . ?

Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley told Wired,

“We have all these specials on Foursquare, and we can make people more aware of them. We’re really good at recommending places to people, and you can imagine some of that is paid promotions at some point.”

And “paid” is the point. Foursquare needs to find a way to generate more cash and fast. Earlier this year, the company opened up their ad dashboard to small businesses. Mom and Pop Pizza can now pay to push their Free Soda with Slice offer but it’s only going to show up when people are actively searching and using the app. But imagine you’re walking down the street trying to decide where to eat. A push notification from Mom and Pop might be the little push you need to choose pizza over the burger joint next door.

Foursquare senior brand partner Brian Williamson talked about the idea at a recent conference. As an example, he referenced the movie “Minority Report.”

“The power of how they could use this — to say: ‘Hey, are you near my store? Here’s something you should check out’ — hearkens back to Minority Report, where a mannequin is physically talking to Tom Cruise as he is walking by a store. It’s getting close to that. This is like the first early step of that.”

Note to entrepreneurs: don’t use dark scifi films featuring government mind control and invasive technology to prove your point.

Twitter, Too

The Wall Street Journal posted a story with the same theme today. This one says Twitter is testing a timeline called “Nearby” which shows you Tweets from people in your area. Not people you know or people you follow, just people who happen to be within a few miles of you.

Twitter says they’re constantly looking for ways to create a “better experience” for users. I have been known to use the local button to search for information on strange goings-on in my neighborhood. Still, this one sounds like straight, marketing geo-targeting to me.

What do you think? Do you like the idea of mobile geo-targeting for ads or Tweets or do you think it’s too invasive?




  • Adison

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  • Mike Arnill

    Interesting post. You can get more marketing ideas at