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Foursquare Cause Marketing with Billboards

Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm used Foursquare to squeeze data out of participating commuters and a $50,000 donation from an anonymous donor.

But the Foursquare promotion didn't pull you into Earthjustice’s offices in Oakland, California.

Instead, the promotion invited commuters to check in at four donated billboards spread across the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. The check-ins triggered a $10 donation up to a maximum of $50,000. More than 5,700 commuters checked in at the ads and the donation goal was met.

That’s one of the ads at the left.

I like the use of Foursquare in this effort and I know that as a marketer I’d love to get my hands on all the data Foursquare collects. But The New York Times is touting this as the new hotness for Foursquare and nonprofits. I’m dubious.

When you check in at Foursquare at, say, Sarah’s Shake Shack, there’s a chance to physically engage with the brand: eat the product, for instance, or meetup with friends. Foursquare also allows postings, so you could write a review of Sarah’s ‘German Chocolate Cake Shake.’

You can certainly physically engage with nonprofit brands, too. You can volunteer at the local food bank, or serve on a board. Had the ad brought people to Earthjustice’s offices instead of to the billboards, they could have asked people to stuff envelopes over a cup of coffee.

But aside from using Foursquare to post, there’s no way to really humanly interact with a sign. And the game element of Foursquare doesn’t really ameliorate that deficiency in my view. Foursquare typically serves to put you in contact with other people, but the billboard element largely takes other people out of the equation.

In this specific case with Earthjustice, there’s something artificial-feeling about the $50,000 donation. Setting the donation amount at $10... a relatively high number compared to the more modest discounts you usually get when you're a Foursquare regular... underscores this. I suspect that Earthjustice was always going to get the $50,000 donation from the anonymous donor, no matter the response from the Foursquare promotion.

If that's the case then there's a certain intellectual dishonesty in the promotion.

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