Remember those unwelcome dinnertime phone calls from strangers promising the latest in attic insulation or a holiday for two for the price of one?
Start-up UnWired Nation has come up with a new take on telephone advertising that it says will get marketing messages across without the same annoying intrusions.
The company, previously known as UnWired Buyer, already lets shoppers at online auction site eBay keep track of bids for desired items via cell phone. Its technology calls bidders with status alerts as auctions draw to a close.
UnWired will now deliver automated voice alerts to mobiles on everything from news stories and stock moves to the score for a favorite sports team or details on upcoming events.
The idea is consumers set the time and type of information they receive, rather than face a barrage of unwanted calls. For example, they could ask for stock alerts only when a share hits a certain price, or at 4 p.m. daily rather than during dinner.
UnWired plans to offer the service free and earn money from ads related to the information requested. For example, a concert alert may offer the option of transferring to a ticket agent or an ad for computers could run with a tech news story.
Gartner analyst Tole Hart estimates that the overall mobile phone advertising market will grow to $10 billion globally from about $1 billion in 2006. But while the wireless service and advertising industries do tailor ads for mobile phones via the Internet or text messages, few promote voice-based ads.
UnWired Chief Executive Indy Gill said the company chose voice calls rather than data services because mobile devices are still used more for calls than for Web surfing or texting.
"I think the voice-based market is a bigger addressable market," Gill said.
Even among phone users in the most active group for mobile Web browsing and text messaging, aged 25 to 34, less than 28 percent use such services, according to M:Metrics research.
UnWired's first customers for the service include Benchmark, a fantasy sports Web site that plans to send notifications on players or teams, and Zooven, a Texas company that plans to send alerts to real estate agents.
Gill is working to build a service for users of social-networking sites such as Facebook to alert members with calls about new messages received through them. UnWired also aims to sign deals in the event-ticketing and travel industries.