Would You Pay Attention To Mobile Advertisers If They Paid You?

A startup called Aquto offers to increase your data plan if you interact with mobile advertisers. Here's how it works.

Most people find mobile ads even more annoying than television commercials, according to a study by Forrester research released last year. But would that change if advertisers paid them to pay attention?

A startup called Aquto is testing that theory using mobile data as a currency. Partnering with mobile carriers and advertising networks, it rewards users for watching branded videos, making purchases, and completing other interactions with advertisers by loading free data directly onto their mobile plans. Filling out a survey, for instance, might earn a customer 100 free megabytes. Signing up for Netflix might earn more than a gigabyte. Advertisers pay Aquto for each interaction, and Aquto takes a cut before buying mobile data to give away. The exchange only costs Aquto tens of cents, but it could save users tens of dollars on their phone bills.

"[Users] can almost treat it as an insurance policy," says Aquto founder Susie Kim Riley, whose previous company, Camiant, sold to Tekelec for about $130 million in 2010. "If you happen to go over a month, you don’t have to worry, because that insurance is there to make sure you don’t have to pay overage."

Aquto began rolling out to customers of British telecommunications company Vodafone last month, and it will launch with an unannounced "major U.S. carrier" in August. Users have two options for earning free data. The first is to come across an ad that notes the option. They don’t need to set up an Aquto account because the company, through its mobile carrier partnerships, already knows to which account a mobile device is tied. The second is to download an Aquto app specifically for the purpose of interacting with advertisers.

Though an app for ads doesn’t exactly have the appeal of Angry Birds, Riley says she thinks the latter will be appealing to people who are concerned about going over their data limit. According to a survey of about 1,000 AT&T and Verizon users by Aquto, that’s about 66% of us. The same survey, which recruited respondents by running ads in apps, found 63% of subscribers were curbing their data usage in order to avoid overage charges. Mobile carriers would rather sell more data than see their customers cut back, and Aquto helps them do this. On the ad side, as Riley puts it, "All advertisers care about is that there is something out there that will improve the effectiveness of their campaigns. They almost don’t care that it’s mobile data."

Users, meanwhile, are by one estimate already expected to increase their mobile data usage by 300% in the next four years. "It’s almost like air," Riley says of the mobile Internet. "You’re giving them more air so they can keep going on the mobile device."

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  • Anthony Reardon

    Hi Sarah,

    Well I am fundamentally opposed to most ad concepts, especially as they relate to the web and mobile. Just looking at the example image above, I see the kind of advertising that I think most end-users consider as pollution. Companies that want to do better should look at putting their money into things that will help optimize online experiences. With that said, this data exchange incentive does have some potential. I would go about it differently though.

    Off the top of my head, let's say certain companies have a data boost app on their sites offering a rate of re-compensation for the time people spend using their mobile applications there. You see what I mean?- That's more of a real consideration applied to end-users. From there, maybe you add a little extra data boost as thanks for taking the initiative to visit, and a factor of 2X to thank in advance for time users might spend advocating/ sharing their experience to others. Maybe then you do higher factors for particular interactions and so on.

    The thing is it shouldn't be a cheap trick. I don't think people are going to enjoy going into an ad feeder and jumping through hoops just because they are desperate for free data. A lot of people may do it, but the process might be garbage to them, and the advertisers might not get any worthwhile conversion from the activity.

    Aquto might still be in a good position to manage such a process though. They apparently have the necessary kind of model and application in place. End-users would probably still want a central directory they could look into to see who participating companies were.

    Best, Anthony

  • uıʍpooƃʞɔıu

    I feel like anything that reinforces mobile carriers limiting user data is probably not going to work for an extended period of time.