Pay-per-call advertising firm Ingenio struck a deal to provide its sponsored listings to an SMS-based directory assistance service operated by UpSNAP.
The arrangement extends Ingenio's pay-per-call ad network to include text messages. Users of UpSNAP's service, called FREE 411, will only see Ingenio's ads when they search for a listing in a sponsored category.
"This is just part of a larger trend that demonstrates pay-per-call as an advertising model has legs beyond Web search," said Marc Barach, Ingenio's chief marketing officer. "What we're seeing now is that as a monetization model, there are environments where a click is just not a suitable event -- on a mobile device for example. The [wireless] environment is highly friendly to a pay-per-call event. We see call-through rates that are substantially higher than in the Web environment."
Marketers may be wary of the fact that UpSNAP does not explicitly identify which of its listings are sponsored and which are not, a practice that would be heresy for Web search engines. CEO Tony Philipp argues the mobile environment functions differently and should not be held to the same standard.
"This is not Web search, where algorithmic results and sponsored listings go hand in hand," he said. "We're providing phone users with information that is relevant to the category. We're able to bring back merchants that may have paid or may not have paid. The same is done with the Yellow Pages."
UpSNAP will deliver as many as four listings within a single text message, but only sponsored links are enabled with a "click to connect" button. Additionally, ads may appear elsewhere on UpSNAPs partner network and on its other text messaging services.
UpSNAP also sells directly to advertisers, though Philipp called the volumes "very minor."
It's the second free directory assistance service Ingenio has linked up with. Back in December, the company arranged to syndicate its sponsored listings to voice-based 1-800-FREE411, which is owned and operated by Jingle Networks.
Additionally, Ingenio's Barach said the company has two agreements in the works with similar voice-based directory assistance platforms. It declined to name the companies, but said the deals would be announced by the end of the quarter. Another company in the space is 1-800-411-METRO.
Ad-supported 411 services appear to be hot, with several companies entering the space in the past year. For the most part, the new entrants have not yet ramped up efforts to promote their audiences to advertisers. That may be changing. Jingle Networks recently received a $26 million round of funding and hired an ad sales executive.
In addition to its mobile search services, UpSNAP offers mobile music and entertainment products.
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