Ads Circle in for the Kill

SAN FRANCISCO (03/29/2000) - You're on the highway and need to call a colleague. You dial your cell phone just as you happen to near an exit for the Golden Arches. The first words you hear? "You deserve a break today ... at McDonald's."

Far-fetched? That scenario could be closer than you think. New technology makes it possible to deliver targeted advertising to consumers in all sorts of new ways.

"Soon, there won't be any place on the planet where we won't be inundated with ads," says Bradley Johnson, interactive editor for Advertising Age magazine in Los Angeles. "From the cradle to the grave, and maybe beyond, we'll be pummeled with ads."

Generous Advertisers?

That's the bad news. The good news: In many cases, consumers can elect not to receive advertising or can often get something free in exchange. Spotcast Communications, for instance, now offers its Hong Kong mobile phone subscribers the option to hear a ten-second ad in exchange for one free minute of airtime.

According to the company, the service can cut a typical bill as much as 60 percent.

On the other hand, advertisers will know where you are, thanks to U.S. Federal Communications Commission rulings that enable 911 operators to pinpoint the origination of a mobile phone call. That gives privacy purists the creeps.

Spotcast is in discussions with U.S. mobile-phone service providers and expects to launch a similar service here by year-end, according to a spokesperson.

Mobile Ads for Mobile Consumers

Wireless devices such as mobile phones and personal digital assistants are catnip to advertisers, Johnson says, if for no other reason than those gizmos go where consumers go. AdForce, for instance, announced this week a service that enables advertisers to deliver targeted commercial messages to wireless devices.

"Our goal is to deliver advertising and promotional messages to devices wherever a digital signal can be sent, beginning with mobile devices," the company says in a statement. "Many ads will be delivered in conjunction with opt-in programs, whereby users will not receive ads unless they specifically request them."

Meanwhile, ads are already streaming directly to some desktop computers in exchange for free-PC and free-Internet access agreements (including digital subscriber line service). Qualcomm recently began offering a free version of its $50 Eudora Pro e-mail software to anyone willing to put up with ads mixed into their messages.

Ads, Ads, Everywhere

Ads are also showing up on ATM screens, on terminals at grocery store check-out counters, and on airport lounge monitors. Soon, the cash register at other retailers such as department stores will feature devices that display ads. "The system will know about you from your credit card purchase and can pitch an ad tailored to you right there on the spot," Johnson says.

If that weren't enough, wireless tablets in doctor's waiting rooms will provide patients with health-related information, and, of course, ads. "You'll be able to take a tablet into the examination room and read it while you wait for the doctor," Johnson says. "It brings a whole new meaning to the term 'Take a tablet and call me in the morning.'"

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