Just when you thought there was no place left to put an ad, nanu, an app from Gentay Communications, puts one over the ringtone. A caller using the app to place a call hears a seven- to nine-second voice spot while waiting for the other party to pick up, which underwrites the cost of the call. The company promises it will eventually be able to to connect users of any phone, even 2G models, to nearly any phone in the world for free.
There’s no charge or minute cap for app-to-app calls, and while landline connections will have a limited number of free minutes, the company has come up with lots of ways for users to earn more of them—along with more ways for advertisers to target the right user audiences.
BBH Asia Pacific is behind the brand strategy and identity work for the new venture, including application design and website development.
In addition to the audio ad that plays while the call is connecting, the company displays a banner from the same advertiser on the phone. CEO and founder Martin Nygate told Campaign Asia-Pacific that this technique overcomes a shortcoming of mobile ads, which have not yet proven particularly effective. The combination of voice and banner makes for a much greater attention grab, he argued.
“It's not passive listening,” said Nygate. “Its active listening, because you are waiting for the other guy to pick up the call.”
And that kind of focus can be very valuable to advertisers. Nestle, HTC Bank of the Philippine Islands and Paypal have all signed up already.
“We can do things with our form of advertising that have never been done before,” Nygate added, as he sketched out some scenarios. With the built-in GPS of most phones, nanu can target ads based on location, down to proximity of certain stores. Or the start and end point of a call might be a basis for an airline to pitch a travel deal. Time of day matters too, so lunch coupons could come with noon-time calls or maybe happy-hour notifications with evening calls.
“I think nanu is something that will definitely be an extremely interesting media solution,” commented Adam Hemming, Singapore CEO with ZenithOptimedia, which is onboard as a media partner. “The levels of targeting available through nanu give media planners the opportunity to reduce wastage to a minimum.”
App users can also choose to share demographic information to earn more landline free minutes and receive offers that are more personalized to them.
“We don’t even see Skype and Viber as our competition,” Nygate said. He’s set his sights higher, zeroing in on the telcos themselves. “Voice networks are basically dead,” he stated. Telecom operators, in his view, are already in the process of transitioning their business models to focus on data delivery. As that happens, it opens the door for more voice calls to travel over IP networks.
Like most free-call propositions, nanu is primarily an app-to-app offering, but the company claims it will expand the service as the user and advertiser ranks grow. Eventually, Nygate asserts, all calls on nanu, including connections to non-app phones, will be free and unlimited.
Underpinning Nygate's plans is a technical innovation. The company claims it can offer clear VoIP calls without echoes, pops or drops, on any generation of phone with data capability, even 2G. The system emerged from attempts to come up with clearer and lower-cost ship-to-shore communications, which Nygate explained is satellite based and demands ultra-low bandwidth. “Skype can’t work with this [level of bandwidth],” he said, because its data packets are just too big.
Once the engineering team found a new way to “deconstruct and reconstruct” the voice data and send it effectively through the narrow bandwidth available, Nygate said, the 'a-ha' moment was clear.
Many of the world’s mobile phones are still 2G-based and can’t use applications like Skype. And even on 3G networks, congestion can be bad enough to lead to routinely spotty call quality. But a small data packet easily gets through, and that was the inspiration to bring free calls to everyone.
“The real costs of calls are actually very, very cheap,” Nygate said. It’s the termination fee, the cost a local firm charges to connect a call to its final destination, that matters most. There are different rates around the world, so keeping under that lowest-common-denominator ceiling is crucial for nanu. Calls to landlines in some countries, at least initially, won’t be possible.
The initial launch today is on Android only. An iOS app should be available within a few months. Nygate said the reason his firm chose to focus on the Google-based OS is because Android phones can be bought at a low cost, represent close to 80 per cent of the mobile market and are the most predominant type of phone in Asia. With Samsung taking the No.1 spot in Campaign Asia’s Top 1000 Brands ranking for the third year, he might be onto something.
“There’s almost as many phones as there are people,” Nygate said and he believes nanu is the perfect platform for brands to reach every one of them. If he gets his way, the only people paying for calls in the future will be advertisers.