Sonata Launches Click-and-Call Service for Phone Ads

In a development that aims to give recipients of wireless ads an opportunity to respond, location-based wireless content firm Sonata said it now offers the capability to initiate a phone call when a user selects an ad it serves.

Silicon Alley-based Sonata also said its new technology can track whether a user initiated a mobile phone call after being served an ad. The technology connects the WAP data service with voice service — independent of the wireless carrier.

Terming the metric “call-through” — after Web banners’ “clickthrough” — the ASP said that it believes call-through will become an key feature by which WAP phone direct marketing success will be measured.

When a consumer receives an ad on their WAP phone, they can “click-through, or initiate a phone call, or fill out a form, or send an e-mail, whatever it may be,” said Sonata chief executive Owen Davis. “Some of these things are unique to phones, some are not.”

“Because you’re on your phone, there are [advertising response] metrics that you need to look at besides clickthrough,” he said. “One of those is call-through — and we’re speculating that that will be an important metric for wireless advertising.”

Earlier this month, the company rolled out location-based ad serving capabilities for Palm VII. Davis said its Palm adaptation supports versions of standard banner ads, interstitials and text ads.

Since wireless carriers currently lack the technology to pinpoint a wireless user, Davis said his company’s location targeting works by borrowing geographic data from wireless content providers, with whom the consumer registers their general location — for example, by selecting a regional weather report.

Davis also said Sonata’s Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based wireless ad server is a chief ingredient in ad serving to devices like PDAs and WAP phones, which have very different interfaces.

Essentially, said Davis, when Sonata’s ad server gets a request for an ad from a mobile device, it sends platform-agnostic XML code, which is detected by the device’s browser, and which issues instructions for the browser to pull the appropriate ad corresponding to the device.

Sonata’s not alone in the space, however. Ad servers 24/7 Media and CMGI-owned AdForce have fairly well publicized initiatives in place to serve ads to emerging media, including wireless and cable set-top boxes, and have been rapidly striking deals with infrastructure firms.

Additionally, the company’s geographic ad serving system functions similarly to that offered by i3 Mobile, which rolled out its product in May.

Davis said that while firm has not yet formally signed partnerships with wireless content firms to share basic regional information, his company soon will be undergoing trials with “some very major content providers.”

Despite the industry being only in its nascency, Davis sees a ramp-up in wireless advertising’s importance — in nine to 12 months.

“Right now everyone is just looking at text links, and that’s a big deal. You’ve got to get past that phase. And how an image looks [on wireless devices,] and how that’s going to be served,” he said.

“There’s still a little runway in front of folks, and this is clearly the time these problems need to be attacked and integrated into the system.”

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