Marketers enthusiastic about Waze opportunities but proceed with caution

The Waze navigation app has logged some 50 million downloads thanks to an engaging program that bonds road warriors with a "we are in this together" quality, and marketers are looking to climb aboard with messages and promotions to make the ride more fun.

The Israel-based company now owned by Google caught on internationally before it hit United States shores. Enabling users to alert one another to upcoming speed traps, ice cream stands and even make map edits, has produced a devoted user base, with reportedly one-third of Waze users sharing road posts.

"Bricks-and-mortar locations are the hanging fruit for Waze to work with in terms of a marketing partner,? said Guillaume Lelait, vice president of North America for Fetch.  ?Large national chains, especially in retail, gas stations and hospitality, that can use the power of location to 'incentivize' local visitors will see the most benefit through Waze and similar applications.?

Road testing
Several brands have already dabbled in the space. Underway now, in conjunction with the World Cup, is a program that lets soccer fans ?join? their favorite team as well as hear travel directions in the voice of popular sports broadcasters. Additionally, Rio de Janeiro is enlisting the help of Waze to ease frayed traffic nerves during the games as well as in 2016 when it hosts the Olympics.

As its awareness grows and geofencing expands, marketers see bigger opportunities down the road.

GPS location-based advertising is still in its infancy and while Fetch has not worked on a campaign with the app yet, the group anticipates it will ?take off soon.?

Waze has deepened user relationships by awarding points and badges to those who make improvement to its maps. And it allows drivers to select what types of landmarks they want to see on their journey. Waze says it is all about contributing to the ?common good? of the road.

High-quality location data
Interscope Records tapped Waze to help it launch a new Eminen record last fall. If drivers saw a backwards E on the map, they could click the pin to enter a sweepstakes.

Mondelez is expanding a program with Waze where mobile coupons are offered on its Stride and Trident chewing gum brands redeemable at retailers including Target and convenience store Kum & Go.

Universal Pictures worked with the Ignited Agency on a program allowing users to select the voice of actor Kevin Hart to guide their journey. It launched prior to the debut of the film Ride Along.

?It created a lot of buzz for the movie, which opened number one with the largest January opening ever,? said David Martin, senior vice president, media at Ignited.

?Sending messages at lunchtime to someone who is within a short driving distance to your restaurant is a big opportunity,? he said about the geofencing opportunities Waze presents.

?Waze location data is extremely high quality and since you know someone is in their car, you can safely use a much larger radius for targeting.?

Proceed with caution
Waze has become a good way to get around a big city.

?But one thing that?s a little scary with Waze is that because it is crowd-sourced information, it can be gamed,? said Mr. Martin. ?We?re hearing about flash mobs that report fake traffic jams on Waze, causing drivers to take unnecessary detours.?

Brands also need to make sure Waze is the right fit for their audience.

John Noe, CEO of Rokkan, said his agency has had talks with Waze about how they would like to work with brands.

?I think it does make sense for the right brand,? Mr. Noe said. ?But it could go wrong for the wrong brand. It really needs to feel natural and have a natural connection.?