Targeted Ads -- For Phone Cards, of All Things

I used to joke that there isn’t enough advertising in the world. Why, I asked, can’t someone put an ad under your eyelids so every time you blink, you get to see their message? Or, perhaps, a sponsorship of each ring on your phone. “Ring ... eat at McDonald’s ... Ring... special sale today at Macy’s ... Ring ...”.

Only, now that second one’s not a joke. A company called VoodooVox is targeting ads to people who use phone cards to call internationally, part of what they call “incall media”. You may know that today you can at stores and stands and kiosks all over the world for a couple or five or ten bucks pick up one of the cards that lets you have inexpensive calls overseas using VOIP technology. The cards also come with various kinds of fees and penalties if you don’t use them quickly after activating them.

The targeting comes in because there are a bazillion offerings and permutations and combinations: cards that are cheaper from New York to Mexico, or from U.S. cellphones to Haiti, or the Philippines, or France, or between London and an African city and on and on. If someone in the U.S., say, is buying a card that’s written in Spanish and has great rates to Mexico, there’s a good chance got strong ties to that country. So, if, when dialing in to activate and use the card, an ad comes on that gives special offers to someone with an affinity for Mexico, that would be pretty decent targeting. JetBlue could advertise a special deal on flights to Puerto Rico for people using a card likely to be interested in that offer. VoodooVox has partnered with IDT and other long-distance providers to try to offering and plans (today?) to release a study from Millward Brown that shows the ads have been effective in reaching the Hispanic community.

I do see a few potential downsides: The folks buying the cards are often immigrants without a lot of disposable income. People buying the cards might get annoyed at having to listen to ads (I have been, on occasion, annoyed at an in-call announcement when I’m paying already). As easy as it can be to navigate, it’s very counterintuitive to jump away from a phone call to activate an offer, and you may not remember the offer after the call. Is there enough scale, over time? Will there be enough people calling Puerto Rico on specially identified cards to make it worth JetBlue’s while?

But it is a way of thinking about targeting ads that uses both technology and smarts to reach a targeted audience in a way that’s not all about the latest set-top boxes, or Web 2.0 applications.

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