Foursquare’s New In-House Agency Will Crank Out Location-Based Mobile Creative for Brands

Sixteen by Foursquare aims to blend art and science

Foursquare is moving into the creative space. Foursquare
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Foursquare wants to be known for more than just its location data.

The company, once known primarily for its consumer-facing app but more as a location-intelligence firm in recent years, is unveiling a new in-house agency today called Sixteen by Foursquare. (Get it?)

Swen Graham, svp of creative and marketing, will oversee a dedicated group of five or six staffers. Foursquare has also hired Lana Z Porter, who formerly worked in creative roles at Vice, as creative director.

“Part of what we feel we need to do if we’re going to offer best-in-class managed service is make sure that the whole spectrum of managed services is represented,” Graham said.

At a time when multiple location-based firms are peddling data for marketers in intriguing ways, Graham said, a dedicated creative team hopes to “differentiate some of the offerings that we have in the location-technology space.” While Foursquare’s expertise is in location intelligence, “it’s not necessarily the only thing that we can do,” he added.

Some of those other offerings include data science and machine learning that are part of a new ad unit Foursquare is rolling out called “deep media units.” The ads are served through Pinpoint, Foursquare’s programmatic tool that powers location ads in apps and on websites to reach 150 million consumers.

The rich media ads feed in contextual data that allows the creative to change based on where someone is or what they are doing. As a simple example, a food brand will be able to serve different copy to someone in New York than someone in California.

At a more granular level though, machine-learning models are layered on top of location data. For example, a big-box retailer may want to zero in on moms who visit parks but also shop at least three times a month. The creative could then include an offer that’s only targeted at frequent shoppers.

“We’re going to learn which types of people are engaging with which types of content and where, and that’s going to allow us to continue to optimize where those impressions are served,” Graham said.

Graham declined to name any clients. But he did say his team is building data visualization tools “to showcase the power of what some of this location technology can mean when it comes to understanding consumer behavior.”

Tom Buontempo, president of Attention, agreed that Foursquare’s creative pitch is intriguing but said that such granular targeting “is very enterprise-focused, and maybe if they can work with a larger-scale brand, it’s a good opportunity to do local at scale.” He added, “They’re not necessarily top-of-mind for brand [dollars] at the moment, but if they can eliminate the friction to be in the consideration and show that they can perform, I think there’s a big opportunity there.”

However, Warren Zenna, founder and principal of Zenna Consulting Group, disagreed that Foursquare’s efforts will work for marketers, primarily because consumers aren’t receptive to location-based promos.

“The idea of a creative group baked into a media platform in general makes complete sense, but for location-based ad targeting specifically? I’m not too sure,” he said. “I am sure that companies like Foursquare will provide reams of data that prove my premise is wrong, but I am still not buying it. There is simply not enough empirical real-world, common-sense data to support the idea that people look at ads when they are out and about and living their lives.”

In terms of Foursquare’s own marketing, Sixteen by Foursquare will absorb some of the company’s work but Foursquare will continue to work with agencies, too.

While creativity is the focus of Sixteen by Foursquare, he added that the company’s ad offerings are built on top of the company’s location data, which requires deep technical expertise.

Graham said the goal is to offer “this up as a full-service solution for brands that are looking for that best-in-class managed service.”

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.