Making a Medium of Phone Cards

LOS ANGELES When a pair of marketing execs found themselves struggling to gather concrete ad-spend statistics, they turned to a new, trackable media outlet: pre-paid telephone cards.

Pocket Billboards, the duo’s resulting Studio City, Calif., company, was formed to “turn a network of phone cards into something that advertisers understand” said Steven Posen, president of the indie shop, which offers both media and creative services. “We have the ability to deliver what the advertiser wants—media accountability.”

“The majority of the space on several million IDT-branded phone cards will be dedicated to advertising,” said Mendel Tropper, agency CEO. “But it’s more than just a logo on the card,” he said. An additional audio component overlaid on IDT’s existing long-distance system features at least two five-second ads, including a sponsored welcome message.

“It’s one-on-one, trackable branding,” said Posen. “And the messages are short enough not to annoy consumers.”

IDT of Newark, N.J., said it sells 18 million pre-paid phone cards per month, primarily at convenience stores and supermarkets. California Green, L.A. Aggressive, Speedway and more than 150 other international, national and regional brands are available. Each brand offers a market-specific calling rate and access number.

“So a car dealership in Orange County can put [ads] on only two access numbers,” Tropper explained, while a “blockbuster summer movie” could run across many brands.

Clients—12 of which are already on board—range from “movies, TV networks and packaged goods to food items, automotive and restaurants,” said Posen. They may supply partially or fully produced ads, he said, or enlist Pocket Billboards to develop creative. The cards themselves are produced and distributed by IDT.

“[The client] tells us the ad objectives, and we tell them the best media plan,” said Posen, adding that audio and print elements can be sold separately to accommodate different budgets. More extensive plans include interactive features such as free samples, movie show times, sweepstakes or frequent-visitor points, he said.

Although he declined to give financial specifics, Posen said phone-card advertising “is by far the most cost-effective direct-response medium available.”