Monday, October 23, 2006

FREE411: Will It Change the World?

Recently, when I needed the number for a place where I can get an affordably priced, high-quality men’s haircut, I recalled an interesting new service a friend had recommended, 1-800-FREE411. Call the number, tell the nice operator what you’re looking for, listen to an advertisement and BAM!–get the number. This way, you avoid handing the phone company a buck for public information. It’s a small victory, maybe, but you have to feel a little satisfied.

In my case, I heard a painless-enough message about the righteousness of a certain satellite TV provider and how evil and lame the cable companies are.

It’s a simple idea—ages old, really. A free service just for putting up with some ads? Sounds like good ol’ broadcast TV. But if FREE411 absolutely caught on, if more companies than just satellite providers bought in and they “enhanced the interface”—or whatever fancy buzz terms you’d like to attach—they just might be onto something.

Let’s say you called FREE411 looking for your local printer’s number. Suddenly, an ad for FedEx Kinko’s comes on, with a prompt to press 1 to get connected to the nearest location. You learn of a choice you might not have been aware of, and big, bad FedEx gets to muscle in on the little guy’s business!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Vince, are you saying that Free411 could pull together data learned from your location and the SIC code associated with the business you’re seeking and play an ad for a competing company, along with an offer to connect to that company FOC?”

To that, I would say two things “Yes! And what is FOC?” You would then say “Free of charge.”

With all the competition for customers’ attention these days, advertisers are struggling to find their audience. FREE411 could be a new way to target ads at the right niche audiences (similar to the way Google indexes its search queries and shows relevant sponsored ads)—potentially a win/win for customer and advertiser.

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