Free Samples, Via Your Television Set Top Box

Interactive television firm RespondTV is venturing into the tricky world of free sample distribution, partnering with San Francisco-based FreeSamples.com in a direct marketing pitch to users of its Internet-based set top boxes.

It is the first such alliance between an interactive media play and a product sampling firm and both companies are touting the directness of the marketing strategy as a reason such a deal makes sense. For RespondTV, it’s a new service it can offer its existing advertisers, and, for FreeSamples.com, it’s a new distribution platform for its offers. Financial terms of the deal were not announced.

RespondTV allows viewers with Internet-based set-top boxes to click on their television remote controls and get more information about a particular advertising campaign. In this case, RespondTV will offer the delivery of free samples to its users and FreeSamples.com will provide the back-end delivery of a company’s offering.

Todd Lash, senior vice president of RespondTV explained that viewers will be required to answer a few marketing questions in exchange for the free samples. The answers will then by used by FreeSamples.com to produce marketing surveys to its clients.

“The delivery is more targeted. The samples go to people who actually ask for them. So, this will be attractive for advertisers because of the directness of the marketing. We’re basically combining interactive television with their (FreeSamples.com’s) delivery mechanism…It should be appealing to existing and new advertisers,” he said in an interview today.

One of the knocks against the concept of offering free samples as a branding gimmick is that there is no guarantees the actual products being shoved into the hands of harried jaywalkers are actually used or wanted. FreeSamples.com, which landed $15 million in start-up funding in April, is pinning its hopes on the directness of the RespondTV setting to snag new clients.

The company, which is in the midst of bridge round funding negotiations, already has an impressive client roster which includes Unilever, Kellogg’s, Dole, Planters and Sunsweet. Its backers include CondeNet, Hollinger International Inc., United News and Media, GE Investments, TechSpace Xchange and Bob Lessin, chairman and CEO of WitSoundview Group, Inc. FreeSamples.com spokesperson Jamie Kohn said the partnership offers a new avenue for the distribution of clients’ products and new demographics to conduct market research, a key component of its business.

“This is great exposure for us and our clients. RespondTV will offer their clients who are national advertisers the opportunity to not only offer product sampling through the respondTV service. They’ll also be offering their clients a full turnkey marketing solution,” Kohn said. “It is a perfect partnership and the first of its kind,” she added.

“FreeSamples.com realizes the future potential for enhanced television advertising and we believe that sampling is a natural extension. By partnering with RespondTV, for the first time FreeSamples.com will provide both our advertisers and consumers with unprecedented value through targeted interactivity.”

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