Location-based services are programs like Gowalla, Facebook Places and Foursquare that use competitive game dynamics to better engage their users. Fantasy sports are fun because you can beat your boss in the office league; XBOX Live is fun because you can shoot your friend in the face on Call of Duty; Foursquare is fun because you can become the mayor of, I don’t know, Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles or something.
So for example, pretend you adore Starbucks. With Foursquare you can, upon arrival, broadcast a message to your network that says, “Not only am I at this specific Starbucks now, I visit said Starbucks so frequently that I’ve been awarded real or virtual kickbacks and status symbols from the company in celebration of my patronage.” It’s pretty much a self-absorbed materialist’s dream come true.
The motivation to participate is the same motivation that makes surfers seek and claim local status at their home breaks, and this behavior would be too easy for surf brands to mine and exploit in the following way:
Let’s say “Aaron” surfs Steamer Lane every day. O’Neill is a brand with deep Santa Cruz roots and a principal product (wetsuits) that’s a year-round necessity at Aaron’s latitude. So O’Neill officially “sponsors” Steamer Lane on Foursquare, rewarding Aaron and The Lane’s most regular surfers with O’Neill discounts and complimentary product. Soon all of Steamer’s regular crew is decked out in O’Neill gear and implicitly endorsing it to the impressionable masses who pass through. That’s what sponsorship is all about.
Other applications abound: Timmy Patterson could offer an at-cost custom board to anyone with over 300 annual check-ins at Lowers to boost brand awareness and loyalty among the San Clemente surf community — specifically, the people who frequent the region’s best break, and who are hence likely to be the best and most influential surfers.
Saturdays NYC, the SoHo surf shop and café, could offer a free latte to anyone who’s checked in at Far Rockaway that day, in an effort to reward and galvanize Manhattanite surfers.
HSS could sponsor the south side of the HB Pier (and Jack’s would get the north side). Red Bull could give a dozen cases to anyone who checks in at Dungeons, Maverick’s, Jaws and Shipstern’s in the same calendar year. Vans could throw free slippers at whoever checks in to all three Triple Crown venues on each event’s final day. Concoct a few ideas of your own; it’s not hard.
Fact: Surf breaks come with decades’ worth of cachet and significance baked into their names and reputations. Just like pro surfers. So in the same way a surf brand piggybacks on an athlete’s image via sponsorship, it could attach itself to surf spots and absorb some of their cultural appeal with location-based technology. What’s the monetary value of being known as the official boardshort of Pipeline?
Well, Volcom — care to find out?
Stuart Cornuelle is SURFING’s Managing Editor and is on Twitter @stuartcornuelle.