MyScreen Serves Mobile Ads in Exchange for Free Minutes

U.S. consumers may soon be able to click on ads for Bertolli pasta meals and Dove soaps on their smartphones, and then redeem the coupons in exchange for free cell phone minutes and other perks.

Unilever and Grupo Bimbo—a Mexican food products maker that sells brands like Arnold breads and Boboli in the U.S.—are among the first to use the technology, which was developed by MyScreen Mobile. The Miami, Fla.-based developer today (Wednesday) unveiled its new mobile ad platform.

MyScreen will roll out the technology in Latin American countries like Brazil, Mexico and Argetina first, with an implementation slated for the U.S. and Europe in 2010. MyScreen CEO Maurizio Angelone said the ad platform is in the final stages of deployment and will likely be active in the next three to four weeks in Latin America. His company is currently in talks with several large carriers in the U.S. and Europe, Angelone said.

Advertising on mobile phones isn’t new, but MyScreen claims its technology is different in that it has higher visibility compared to SMS text messaging and banner ads, which are only visible when a cell phone user is surfing the Web. Ads pop up at the end of every call, meaning marketers get higher engagement and click-through rates. This means that a brand manager on Wish-Bone, for instance, could offer $1 off salad dressings and then track the ad’s performance across cell phones (how many users viewed and responded to it) and its effect on sales.

The driving force behind all this is a points-based rewards system, where consumers can get bonuses like free mobile minutes and free trials of new products. And, it’s an opt-in service, meaning consumers can choose to sign up and withdraw from the program at any time. (MyScreen selects ads for viewers based on their user preferences when signing up with a wireless cell phone provider.)

MyScreen is promoting the platform by having wireless carriers send invites to consumers to join the service via a “very simple, three-screen registration process,” Angelone said. What follows is a “seamless” downloading of the application, and, once installed, the consumer’s smartphone is ready to receive ads.

Julie Ask, an analyst who covers mobile advertising at Forrester Research, said the idea of rewarding consumers for viewing ads on smartphones has been around. In 2007, Blyk, a U.K.-based company, ran a mobile virtual network operation that rewarded 16- to 24-year-olds with free cell phone minutes and text messages in return for viewing ads.

“There has to be some value proposition,” Ask said of MyScreen’s new platform, adding that many U.S. wireless carriers already offer unlimited monthly cell phone plans, or pre-paid programs such as Boost Mobile’s $50 a month “unlimited nationwide talk, text, web and walkie-talkie.”

A Forrester study conducted in April 2008 found that 61 percent of consumers were opposed to the idea of cell phone advertising. That is down from a high of 80 percent in 2006. Consumers ages 18-24, and those under 35, generally, are more open to the idea. Ask concluded: “Once you get down to it, it tends to be lower for younger age groups. People will trade advertising for free minutes.”