Intera Turns Bluetooth Into A Marketing Tool

Sending location-based ads via Bluetooth could be boon for advertisers, but some warn it could annoy customers.

Marin Perez, Contributor

June 3, 2008

2 Min Read

Imagine you're walking down San Francisco's Pier 39 near the Hard Rock Cafe when your Bluetooth headset lights up and your phone vibrates.

The screen reads, "Would you like to receive a special offer from Hard Rock Cafe?" If you agree, a coupon or promotional message is delivered to your cell phone via a wireless Bluetooth connection. This is a scenario thousands have gone through over the last six months thanks to Intera Group's proximity Bluetooth marketing.

"Because the Bluetooth network has about a 100-foot diameter, they're very relevant ads, location wise," said Kevin Thornton, CEO of Intera. "And if you're not interested, you can just ignore it. It'll go away in about 8 seconds."

Bluetooth is a wireless protocol that allows devices to communicate with each. Primarily, it's been seen as a way for an individual to pair a headset with their cell phone, but instead of a private wireless connection, Intera has turned around the technology into a way for advertisers to reach customers on their mobile devices. The Hard Rock Cafe is Intera's marquee customer.

To do this, the company sets up a network of Bluetooth transmitters around heavily-trafficked areas. Only people walking by with their cell phones in "discoverable" mode would be sent an opt-in message. If the person said no to the initial message, the system will not send them another message.

So far, Thornton said Integra and Hard Rock Cafe haven't received any complaints. Their system has discovered over 100,000 devices in discoverable mode, and tens of thousands have opted to get the message.

As the mobile ad market swells, more types of Bluetooth ads like this can be expected, but there's the risk of consumers getting annoyed.

"In the long run, how will consumers react to these unsolicited ads?" said Michael Gartenberg, analyst for Jupiter Research. "Clearly, the right way to do it is to have an opt-in policy that establishes privacy and security parameters."

Gartenberg said Bluetooth ads can enhance a consumer's experience, like an ad-supported cell phone game at sporting events. But, there are still perception hurdles to clear.

"It will be a challenge to get people up to speed on how Bluetooth can be used for more than just syncing a headset."

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