Ad breaks subsidize free phone calls in Finland

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HELSINKI -- The concept of free telephone calls for consumers willing to endure commercial advertising breaks - which has made significant waves in Sweden following its December launch - has spread to Finland. Tele Finland, the Finnish state telecom operator, has launched a trial service in the small eastern town of Lappeenranta.

Among the advertisers participating in the project are Finland's largest bank, Merita, construction company Peuhkuri and the international doughnut chain, Arnold's. Users of the free-phone concept system (FPCS) have access to toll-free local calls, while long-distance domestic calls are charged at the local rate.

The FPCS is activated when a caller dials a special code, which serves as a gateway to the service. The caller is greeted by a 10-second commercial, after which the caller can speak for up to 10 minutes for free. This differs from the Swedish test in which the caller's conversation is interrupted by a 10-second commercial after the first minute and then every three minutes.

The Finnish test group involves 200 households. "Right now, we are not charging the advertisers for the service," says Petteri Kaaria, project development manager at Tele Finland. The company is thwarting any attempt by consumers to avoid listening to the ads, for instance holding the phone at arm's length. "We're varying the length of the ads so that if they miss the prompt tone, which asks them if they want to make an ad free call, they will have to hang up and dial again," says Kaaria.

The test group will continue until March 31, when the campaign will be evaluated. "After this we will decide whether or not to proceed any further, or if the project is successful how to expand it on a region by region basis, and of course what ad rates to charge," Kaaria says.

The FPCS has proved a major hit since the service was tested by the Swedish market firm Gratistelefon in Lund last December, with 30,000 people a day using the advertising-financed service.

"We are very excited by the concept, and all the more so since most if not all our customers have their own phones, and this is a very unique and effective way to reach them," says ICA spokesman Jan Ericsson. ICA is Sweden's largest retail company.

The Gratistelefon service has attracted more than 30 advertisers including Ericsson, Volvo, S-E-Banken. However, the largest contingent has been local retailers and services such as grocery stores, restaurants, car repair shops and cable-TV subscription services.

Copyright January 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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