I don’t know how many people can remember when Sunoco had gas pumps that you dialed in your octane. And if you do remember you are at least as old as I am. For those of you that don’t know what I am talking about please let me explain. Back in the sixties the Sunoco gas stations had gas pumps that had a dial on them they essentially gave you five grades of gasoline, I think I remember the highest setting to be 260. I didn’t know then what that meant, but as I grew older I learned that was the highest octane. For those of you that still don’t know what I am talking about let’s just say that back then higher was the best. We had a good, better, best mentality in just about everything we did. If you still don’t know what I am talking about, 9:00 pm is way past your bedtime and it doesn’t matter anyway.
Well my story goes like this… My father who was an Ironworker who ultimately went on to walk the high rise steel on the World Trade Center worked nights at a Sunoco while he was between jobs to make ends meet. In those days a customer never pumped their own gas. My father worked nights pumping gas at a Sunoco station. In those days, Sunoco had a promotion that gave customers premiums for buying gas. The premiums were golden coins and people collected them like crazy. I always knew that every time my father came back from pumping gas he would have a pocket full of the precious (to me) golden coins. In my young mind they were just like gold and whenever a customer did not want theirs they would give them to my father. I imagine now that most people collected them to give to their kids just like my dad gave them to me. It’s amazing to think how special those silly coins were to me as I am sure they were to a lot of kids just like me. That my friends was a gimmick based on what was essentially a worthless piece of metal and I guess it must of driven a lot of purchasing decisions. By the way, Sunoco’s next largest competitor was a brand called Esso and they gave away tiger tails, another worthless trinket that no doubt influenced the buying decisions. Marketing people today would probably say that those trinkets helped create loyalty towards those brands, or heavily influenced the purchasing decision. It could not increase the frequency of the purchase, you had to burn your gas out before you could come back for more.
Later in my life the friendly folks at McDonald’s implemented their legendary Monopoly game. If you can remember that it’s probably not bedtime yet but you are getting close. So for those of you that don’t remember or were too young to remember I will explain. The game worked like this…every time that you made a purchase at McDonald’s you could earn a paper Monopoly piece and when you collected all the pieces you could win the game. The whole deal produced a tremendous surge in traffic to the stores and McDonald’s sales soared.. What made it even more interesting is that the pieces came out in sets and became increasingly more valuable and the really important pieces became more rare as the game went on. Even more compelling was the fact that if I can remember there was only going to be one big winner and that was worth about $1,000,000. Psychology majors would tell me that people loved the thrill and excitement and were motivated by that. My marketing friends would probably tell me that this promotion created repeat visits as well as scores of first time customers.
In either case, all of those businesses are still around today so something must have worked, if not the promotions.
Now that gets me to Foursquare…so let’s see how that works. I run around from one place to another collecting silly little badges on a screen. They mean absolutely nothing but, like my little golden pieces of tin from Sunoco they must mean something to somebody because people are collecting them. Foursquare also has a social component that alerts your friends and followers whenever and wherever you check-in. You also can become the “Mayor” with frequent visits to a venue whether or not it is a business. Being Mayor has earned me two paper hats, one from Burger King and one from Long John Silver’s which was a really cool pirate hat. I also got to be the Mayor of my 7-11 and they asked me to work the “graveyard’ shift because the person that was scheduled had “checked in off the grid”, people who are active on Foursquare know what that means. It seems to me that he only people that don’t know where you are the businesses that you are checking in to and spending money with. Really a pretty peculiar deal when you think about it.
Foursquare players get increased point values for frequency of visits as well as number of unique venues that they check in to. So at its core, customers earn points and badges for frequent visits as well as points for unique visits. And so far nothing for the business that I am aware of. It appears to me that Foursquare is growing fans to Foursquare not the businesses and places that users “check-in” and comment about. Is Foursquare one big database in the sky? Are they collecting the patterns of their users and planning to sell that information at some later point. Is Foursquare some sort of Nielson like concern building some new demographic data that they will later sell to businesses?
So really, what’s the deal with Foursquare?