EBay Experimenting with Ads on Voice Alert Calls

Newly launched mobile company UnWired Nation, with its partner Apptera, is enabling eBay and others to not only contact customers with phone calls using a voice interaction system, but to play them ads as well.

UnWired Nation has been quietly developing its Voice Publishing Platform to allow clients, including eBay, to automate the delivery of phone calls to customers and allow them to interact with a voice-based system. The auction site quietly began using the system in June of 2006 to call bidders who opt-in for alerts when auctions they are monitoring are about to end, and then allow them to make one last bid over the phone.

“Auctions are a strong component for our business, and there’s a lot of activity in the last three minutes for our auctions,” said Henri Moissinac, head of eBay Mobile. “Our primary objective is to get as much activity as possible on eBay, and that includes when people are away from their computer.”

UnWired Nation officially launched this week, though it has been operating in stealth mode since Q4 2005. The mobile company is now expanding its system with eBay to start offering targeted ads along with those voice alerts. UnWired Nation will make the voice system free to publishers and :08 and :10 ads will run while “information is retrieved” said Indy Gill, CEO of UnWired Nation.

“We are doing these outbound interactive alerts that are subsidized by contextual relevant advertising,” said Gill. “We will allow publishers to deliver this content to their users for free. And advertisers are starting to embrace this medium because it’s uncluttered and serialized exposure to the person on the other side of the line.”

Mobile ad platform provider Apptera is working to provide contextual ad targeting for the voice alerts. Already working with AT&T and MovieTickets.com, Apptera will add UnWired’s customers like eBay to it mobile ad exchange for targeted delivery, according to Randy Haldeman, CMO at Apptera.

“The combination of the two platforms working together. We do the ads and they do the actual application. Our marketplace for voice ads is the exchange,” said Haldeman. “So those two servers sit next to each other, [UnWired Nation’s] that make the calls and our servers that place the ads. We then use the data to figure out what’s the most relevant ad in play.”

EBay is keen to note that it is not selling voice ads through the system, but allowing UnWired Nation to run non-competitive ads over the eBay network. Already the mobile firm has signed on Dell Computers to deliver ads via voice, said Gill.

In addition to eBay, UnWired Nation has also signed on RSS firm Pheedo, shipping marketplace uShip, real estate search engine Zooven, and borrowing network Loanables as its first customers using its voice alert platform.

“We figured that voice is a very ubiquitous method of communications,” Gill said, referring to the 200 million estimated handsets in the U.S. alone. “Everybody uses it to make a phone call.”

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