Over the last few weeks, the much-hyped mobile app Foursquare began offering “nearby specials,” a new ad product that aims to tap your sense of spontaneity by your proximity. These ads have been few and far between, but on New Years Eve as I dined with friends at a French restaurant in Seattle — and as I checked in to mark the affair — I noticed a nearby special for a sushi restaurant right across the street.
Clicking over to the special reveals a useful offer for a free drink with a $20 purchase — if you show that you’ve checked in from the restaurant. Now with push alerts, the act of checking in can be a promotion vehicle in itself. One of my Foursquare friends, Ben, checked in all over the planet this evening, and each check-in popped up an alert on my iPhone (turns out he was shopping for clothes in my neighborhood). The Foursquare ecosystem, therefore, reinforces itself as it grows virally. But as with any new SMB ad product — especially the more experimental kind — the challenge is to attract enough participation from businesses to become a useful service. (Check out the Foursquare page for businesses here, which focuses on mayor deals.)