Marketing on foursquare is very much in its infancy, and missteps will be inevitable. Misstepping onto foursquare this past month is Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables â€” that’s the one with as many over-the-hill action star tough guys jammed into it as Sly could manage, even if Ahnold only put in a cameo â€” with an unfortunately spammy “awareness” campaign that Lions Gate Entertainment should have never approved.
The film comes out August 13, as you may have already learned by checking into a popular restaurant or entertainment spot in one of 11 U.S. cities in the past few weeks. In my case, it was the Five Guys in Georgetown, where upon checkin I received this “handy” tip:
With over 250,000 ways to order your burger its no wonder that Five Guys burgers are considered bad ass. Brought to you by THE EXPENDABLES opening August 13!
Except that I already knew that, because it is in fact part of Five Guys’ own marketing materials. What I didn’t know until I went to The Expendables’ branded foursquare page is that Lionsgate guerrilla marketers have checked into two dozen locations in Northwest Washington, mostly bars and nightclubs, posting similar tips. I also learned they work “bad ass” into each message and always conclude with “Brought to you by THE EXPENDABLES opening August 13!” This campaign was already too gimmicky, but that just pushed it over the line into outright annoyance.
I imagine the owners of these locations are, to the extent that they pay attention to foursquare, A-OK with Lionsgate saying nice things about them. After all, even in a foursquare-happy city like Washington, DC, few locations have more than a handful of tips. But if The Expendables is the first in a wave of “conversation” marketers talking as much about themselves as the location being checked into, users won’t be the only ones who are annoyed. And all of those messages about August 13 are going to seem awful dated in a week’s time. For these reasons, I think when foursquare made the branded page for them, they should have warned them off this campaign. It’s not just tacky on the studio’s part, but it blights foursquare’s virtual neighborhoods.
Given the existence of this post, Lionsgate might wish to tell itself that “it worked” because people “talked about it” but actually, mostly they haven’t. Not on foursquare, which is not particularly well-suited to dialogue in the first place. Not really on Twitter, where the official Lionsgate account is doing all the talking. On the wider interwebs, About foursquare itself gave this campaign a lukewarm reception upon first announcement, and Mashable highlighted it, albeit somewhat uncritically. If this is supposed to be conversation marketing, I don’t see much evidence of any actual conversation. What I mostly see is The Expendables trying to nose into your life without a compelling reason to do so.
To wit, the real problem for The Expendables’ marketing team is they bring nothing unique to the table. It is certainly a challenge that Lionsgate has no physical locations to build anything around, as do the retail shops and food carts which have made good use out of it. But that isn’t always an impediment. Here in Washington, the History Channel and C-SPAN are just two non-location-based media brands with genuine and recognizable expertise to inform visitors about real-world places. The Expendables just can’t bring that.
This is absolutely not to say a movie like The Expendables shouldn’t try to engage foursquare users â€” but that they should try harder. Why not win the mayorship of certain theaters to let movie fans know you’re coming, and then give free tickets to whomever unseats the branded account? Or why not create new locations for people to find in their cities, to find tickets or piece together clues for a larger prize? Although, I’m a sucker for scavenger hunts.
Lionsgate’s failure with this campaign is forgivable as an early attempt, and I hope others don’t follow without understanding the value they may (or may not) have to offer. The campaign around The Expendables underscores the challenge to engaging foursquare by the locationally challenged, but the best ideas have yet to be tried.
Disclaimer: My previous employer, New Media Strategies, runs online marketing campaigns for Hollywood studios, although I did not. Meanwhile, I have worked with C-SPAN on digital campaigns in the past.
William Beutler is a writer and consultant living in Washington, DC. From 2006 to 2010 he worked for New Media Strategies, a social marketing and measurement agency. His commentary on Wikipedia can be found at The Wikipedian.