It may be jetlag or hallucinations brought on by an overdose of blue cheese dressing but my visit to San Francisco during the last week has convinced me of two things: there are some very smart people in the online ad business and they’d better have a location-aware ad play by the time you’ve finished reading this. If they haven’t got one soon then my first point was wrong.
My predications landed on your screen on 1st January, didn’t they? Well 109,440 minutes later (or 17th March as some know it), I’ve seen my three key thoughts in action. If they can get mass market penetration then there’ll be substantial new advertising revenues around. Having seen the pieces come together now I can really forsee huge opportunities for companies that can get scale and reach on mobile devices. And although I am in the spiritual home of internet start-ups, the tool that proved my point was created in New York and I’ve been using it in London for some time believing there was something in it. It;s the tool that made me unelected mayor of two coffee shops (who should read what I have to say and get me a fee coffee): Foursquare.
Foursquare is a location-aware social network mobile game (just count those buzz words and cash your VC cheque now). In a nutshell, tell your friends where you are, collect points and leave tips about great things to do. Check-in (identify your current location) on your mobile phone wherever you are (my check-in stats are here). The game element; points, value and status adds to the fun. Wikipedia says there are 450,000 members/players as I write this.
As I wandered San Francisco I’d check in occasionally. You get more points the first time you check-in so, as I hadn’t been in town for 10 years, every check-in was a stack of points in my own personal game. But here I saw something new. A little “Special Nearby” flag would appear. Check the special and you’ll discover offers on places nearby: $1 drinks, a frozen yogurt discount or something for the mayor. Visit the location; check-in and show your mobile phone to the retailer to claim your discount or freebie. Simple, elegant and it really works. There should be no reason why London is not offering as many specials right now but, if it is, I’m going to the wrong places. In Frisco I just kept coming across them in the central area.
This all ticks at least three of my prediction boxes just 10 weeks after I wrote them down (I’m not claiming to be Mystic Meg just that the collision of these ideas proved themselves to me a little sooner that I thought they would)! Tick one: it is location based and the specials are near where you are now. Tick two: most specials are, effectively, coupons which you show to redeem. Tick three: it’s real time (by which I mean the offers are available near you now: I haven’t determined if the venues offering the reward are always open when you see the “Special”). Tick, tick, tick.
I have no idea if it will be Foursquare that’ll go big with this (they need more people in more places to be playing) but it is showing what a world of location-aware advertising could be like and that’ll be a very appealing world to a lot of retailers. As the number of advertisers grows a little user targeting (to ensure, of all the offers here, it’s the right one for me) will be needed but generally the people who will see your advertisement will be in the right place at the right time. It’s an ad proposition with less wastage and great measurability and that’s the special most business would like.
Now, I’m checking-in at the airport to head home to try a check in at Paul A Young Fine Chocolates who are, apparently offering get free award winning chocolate truffles if you prove you’ve checked-in.