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LONDON -- A program that rewards mobile phone users for receiving text ads is set to go live in the U.K. following a hugely successful six-week trial.

The company behind the scheme, The Mobile Channel, believes the concept also has the potential to be rolled out internationally.

The Mobile Channel plans to launch commercially in October in the U.K. and is aiming for 1 million subscribers by year-end.

A cross-section of 35 advertisers, such as Sega, Wella, GlaxoSmithKline and brewer Carlsberg, signed up for the trial, which was conducted by NOP Research Group, in association with the London Business School and endorsed by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers.

Around 1,000 16- to 30-year-olds -- typically the hardest group to reach with conventional media -- were drafted into the program. They all agreed to receive text message advertising via their mobile phones in return for airtime discounts, a money-off voucher at book and stationery retailer WH Smith, or a donation to charity. A maximum of three text ads was sent each day.

Participants filled in detailed questionnaires about their interests, which were used to build individual profiles to enable specific targeting of ads. Mobile Channel believes it is the only program of this kind that strictly tailors ads to individual profiles.

In test, 94% of participants said they were satisfied with the service, and 85% said they were likely to recommend it to a friend. Almost three-quarters (74%) read more than 75% of the ads sent, and 81% agreed that the ads they received were interesting or appropriate to them and their lifestyles.

Response rates on ads that demanded interactivity were also high: between 10% and 20% was typical, with 28% the top figure recorded. In addition, 63% of those sampled said they replied or took action as a result of receiving a text ad message.

"Advertisers have been batting their heads against the wall trying to find innovative ways of reaching this age group, and this is really it," said a Mobile Channel spokeswoman. "Brands can get in their personal space, in the palm of their hands, with ads that are specifically relevant to them, wherever they are, whatever they're doing."

Talks are underway to sign up advertisers for the commercial rollout. Mobile Channel is confident "there will definitely be some big global brands involved in the scheme."

From October, subscribers will receive 7 cents per ad received -- up to a maximum of $70 a year per person -- to be taken as discount on airtime bills, contribution to charity or retail vouchers.

The full-fledged service will not be restricted to the 16 to 30 age group.

Mobile Channel was established in June 2000 by Andrew Cooper, 31, a former PricewaterhouseCoopers international consultant, and Chris Havemann, 33, previously a marketing and business development executive in the telecommunications industry. -- Suzanne Bidlake

Copyright May 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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