Fast-Food Chains Bypass Foursquare With Branded App

carlsbodyimageReports of relatively slow adoption rates for location-based services are not stopping Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s from launching a branded Foursquare-like app before the end of the year. And according to the CKE Restaurant brands’ digital agency, 72andSunny, the initiative has been no small measure to put together.

Rebekah Jefferis, director of interactive production for the Los Angeles-based 72andSunny, explained that her team was charged with integrating the brands’ new “Happy Star Rewards” program with the point-of-sales software for their 3,000 stores. In short, Jefferis said, the system had to be programmed to recognize and appropriately reward check-ins.

“I cannot comment on the cost specifically,” she said. “But a large endeavor was undertaken with this. It’s much more complex than building a microsite or a WAP site.”

Jefferis said the app will be available for iPhone and Android users and has been designed to serve up either Carl’s Jr. or Hardee’s rewards, depending on which brand the user is closest to. Carl’s Jr. has a stronger presence on the West Coast and in the Southwest, while Hardee’s is a bigger mainstay for the South and Midwest. “You could drive from the East Coast to the West Coast and get content served up from both brands via the app along the way,” she explained.

When the app is ready to go live, Jefferis and her team will author promotional messages on the Facebook pages for Carl’s Jr. (537,200 “Likers”) and Hardee’s (367,400), as well as the brands’ Twitter accounts that combine for 19,000 followers. “It’s an app for our loyalists,” she said. “We will also use their e-mail newsletters, the brand websites, and the YouTube channel.”

Jefferis added that her marketing team was planning to do an ad buy via an apps network to help push Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s new mobile initiative. In-store signage such as counter cards will also be employed to educate store customers. Additionally, on-location TV monitors will be utilized to show videos introducing the app to customers, while also demonstrating how to use it. Patrons will be able to learn about the rewards program associated with the app while they eat lunch or dinner. The monitors currently exist in 357 of the brands’ collective 3,000 locations, but Jefferis said the brands plan on installing more of them in 2011.

People checking in for the first time will be able to virtually spin a “Wheel of Awesome,” which will result in either a discount or complimentary item from the menu, the agency director said. From there, app users will be able to acquire a similar reward for every fourth check-in. They will be able to hit a “Save” or “Redeem” button when they are served a reward, such as free fries with a burger purchase. If they tap “Redeem,” the users will have a half-hour to take advantage of the offer as the app becomes a timer that shows them how many minutes remain.

And while they will be able to connect the app to their Facebook and Foursquare accounts, they will not be required to digitally broadcast the Hardee’s or Carl’s Jr. check-in to their friends. “We don’t want to force any of that onto the user,” Jefferis said. “Ultimately, we want to reward them for coming to a restaurant. While they are not required to share, we put those tools in the app for them to use as they choose.”

72andSunny has designed the app in-house from scratch, she said. With capable platforms like Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown, Loopt, and Facebook Places available, why go through all the trouble?

“With a QSR chain, it’s operationally more efficient,” Jefferis said. “And definitely there is fraud-protection play for us to do this on our own platform. Those two [elements] really drove the decision.”

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