Advertisers test service offering free voice-mail

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It's hard to imagine a voice-mail system as a viable advertising vehicle. But that's where Procter & Gamble Co. plans to place voice and banner ads in June for Pringles chips.

As part of an effectiveness study, P&G is testing ads for free on eVoice, a free ad-supported voice-mail service that picks up messages from single-line home or work numbers. Unlike voice-mail services offered by local phone companies, eVoice also allows users to listen to their voice messages via the Internet.

"It's blindingly simple for users--and it's free," said Mark Winther, group VP-worldwide telecommunications at International Data Corp.

EVoice is working with many major telecommunications companies including Bell Atlantic Corp. as well as SBC Communications' Ameritech and Pacific Bell.


The Menlo Park, Calif.-based service is supported by one 10- to 15-second spot (called an i-audio ad) that plays each time users check their messages. Each account has up to 10 mailboxes. People who register for a mailbox must give their age, gender and Zip code, but e-mail addresses are optional. After listening to an ad, people can opt to hear a 60-second extended spot, be connected to telephone center to make a purchase or receive more information via e-mail.

Banners also will be served on the eVoice Web site. Banner ads startat $20 per thousand impressions; audio ads start at $45 CPM and go up depending on the level of targeting.

EVoice has been in test mode, said Chancey Blackburn, director media services at eVoice, waiting to amass enough users to make advertising viable. EVoice launched in San Francisco in November and had 1 million unique visitors in March, according to Media Metrix. It went national this month.

To mark its national launch, eVoice this month breaks a $40 million campaign from Euro RSCG DSW Partners, Salt Lake City. The campaign, which includes outdoor boards, direct mail, TV, radio and print, carries the tagline: "EVoice. Voice-mail that finds you." EVoice created online ads.


The point drives home eVoice's ability to notify users of their home messages via cell phone, pager or e-mail, said Scott Milener, eVoice director of business development.

"We're going with somewhat humorous marketing," he said, noting that ads will feature humorous down-to-earth images. The ad salvo is aimed at families, teens, students and small businesses.

Ms. Blackburn said she expects to have P&G Pringles study results in July. Other advertisers that have tested eVoice include Fox Family Channel, Transworld Entertainment Corp. for its music site and the U.S. Navy.

What P&G liked about the advertising platform was the chance to tap online and offline media through a single entity.

"There's a convergence happening," Ms. Blackburn said, that is "adding interactivity to offline and adding a voice to an otherwise silent banner."


While young, the messaging space is crowded with players trying to combine voice-mail, e-mail, faxes and other communications via a Web-based portal. Other players include General Magic's myTalk; Shoutmail; and OneBox, which purchased recently. But the competing ad-supported voice-mail boxes require users to call either a local or toll-free number and then dial a code to reach someone.

While eVoice has an edge, IDC's Mr. Winther said it needs to keep advancing its product. "One can't stand still." Mr. Winther said he could envision an entire e-commerce platform "so that it expands from a communications tool to a fuller applications suite."

Copyright May 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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