Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Advertising company TUN now offers a dose of deals to D.C. walkers

September 19, 2011 - 01:37 PM
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Discounts at Lucky Bar? (Photo: flickr/Elvert Barnes)

Can a country in a recession offer too many daily deals, discounts, and coupons? One company doesn't think so — and it's begun targeting District residents and especially college students with a new arsenal of discounts that place an emphasis on how walkable our dense city blocks are. The University Network, an advertising company more commonly known as TUN and responsible for providing hundreds of public TV screens to universities throughout recent years, is partnering nationally with 7,500 merchants to offer 22,000 daily deals with the hopes that LivingSocial and Groupon haven't worn down your instinct to save a buck.

"You have a lot of students coming out of college without jobs," said Peter Corrigan, the owner and CEO of TUN's parent company Submedia, which purchased the network in late 2006. "I realized kids are focused more on the screens in their pocket."

TUN plans to go public with the new deals launch later this week, starting with college newspapers and then tackling other media outlets. The screens Corrigan alludes to above are smartphone screens, and the CEO hopes that tapping students' attention to their iPhones and Blackberries will draw them to his company's interactive maps. As in the image above, the TUN maps show all the deals block by block, available every day and, Corrigan hopes, practical to the average student as well as, in many cases, the District resident regardless of age or academic affiliation. Corrigan dismisses comparisons to other popular daily deal sites like LivingSocial or Groupon, saying that what TUN offers is "more like value pack or pennysavers."

Here's an example of what TUN's maps of D.C. deals look like:

Chocolate strawberries
Who wants 50-cent tacos at Lucky Bar? (Photo: TUN)

The deals are live on the site now and can be filtered by university if you so choose, as in the case above. I entered "Georgetown" just to see what would turn up. You can scroll across a slick little map of Dupont Circle, with each icon representing a deal. Lucky Bar features a special for today, Monday, in which TUN users can receive 50-cent tacos and $12.75 buckets of Sol beer from 5 to 11 p.m. Or perhaps go down the street to Panache and get a dollar off your beer. Other TUN deals include a $2.50 PBR tallboy at the Blaguard, and student discounts for shows at Blues Alley, entry to Tranquil Space yoga, and tanning sessions at Dupont Circle's Solar Planet Tanning.  

The deals are going live in cities through the U.S., and Corrigan said that TUN has pushed various merchants to lower their prices as part of these discounts. Corrigan added that they also have a lot of paying advertisers already.

"New York, D.C., Boston — these are all pretty expensive places," Corrigan told me. "We have all these deals every day."

What this signifies to me is the rise of the pedestrian and geo-location technology. The trends surrounding retail, smart tech, and the value inherent in location have grown enormously in recent years and driven commercial developments just like TUN's. To accomplish what Corrigan wants, his company needs these dense networks of D.C. streets, of college towns, and a population that's both plugged in and ready to walk. These discounts rely on the convenience of knowing the relevant deals are close by.

The company I think of is not LivingSocial or Groupon, actually, but rather Foursquare, the geo-location app where users "check in" to various locations on a virtual map and can earn awards and become a place's "mayor" if he or she visits the spot most frequently. About a year ago, I wrote for The Atlantic about how restaurants around the country were growing excited about the ways they could tap the geo-location potential of discounts tied to Foursquare, including local District chains such as Sweetgreen. The value of Foursquare check-ins was not only convenience but customer loyalty and a whole social network; what Corrigan and TUN offer is simply another selection of geographically convenient discounts, especially helpful to those college students who might benefit from any of the student discounts listed. The concept is hardly breathtaking or original, but their maps are colorful and their focus is proven. And given the U.S. economy, who's to scoff at more discounts?

TUN will be here to compete ... but what, I wonder, is the next great innovation in pedestrian retail strategy? In any case, TUN's new offers show the value of the pedestrian and reinforce the notion that Americans are escaping into the outdoors that much more often. On the one hand, we're talking cheap rail drinks and tacos; on the other, we're talking about how entire American lifestyles are shifting as a result of how we see and navigate transportation.These types of deals, as commercial and simple as they may be, foster a greater connectivity in American life, among the walkers and bicyclists and drivers who take the time to stop and notice what's around them. The value is on the sidewalk and in the feet.

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