It has been tried before in various guises and always ended in tears. Offer consumers cheaper phone plans in return ceding a small piece of personal control on their mobile phone for advertising.

The original idea surfaced in dotcom 1.0 and it was a shocker. This was in the days of feature phones and the offer was that your calls would be free as long as you didn’t mind having your conversation interrupted every minute by audio ads. The company that pushed the idea no longer exists.

Skip forward 20 years to the world of smartphones and Optus wants to subsidise your phone bill by putting ads on your lock screen. The company is offering data-hungry prepaid mobile customers an app (Optus Xtra) which lets Android users earn extra data or credit by viewing ads on their smartphone.

And Optus is not alone in pushing the idea. Rival Unlockd launched last year and has backers such as New Corp’s Lachlan Murdoch.

Optus Xtra gives prepaid customers the option to earn 1GB of extra data on eligible monthly plans, or $2 of extra credit on daily plans every 28 days by having ads displayed on their phone’s locked screen.

It probably won’t work for two reasons – the offer seems fairly parsimonious for all the effort, and the phone may simply be too personal a device for this to catch on.

Then again Which-50 thought the Facebook Phone was a good idea, so what do we know?

According to Megan Forster, Director of Product Innovation and Value Added Products at Optus, “Our prepaid customers have told us they want to boost their data, but are also budget conscious. By giving customers the option to earn extra data through watching ads, Optus is enabling them to enjoy more of what they love, without spending an extra cent.”

The app was developed in partnership with New Zealand-based start-up, Postr which already works with mobile network operators in NZ and South-East Asia. In markets like Indonesia where bandwidth is expensive and scarce it probably makes sense – it’s going to be a harder sell in a market like Australia.

In fairness the offer is best viewed in the full context. “Customers on eligible mobile plans also have the option to stream music on Google Play Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora and Spotify apps without using their plan’s data,” said Foster.

Amobee, which like Optus is owned by Singtel, has exclusive control over the advertising and it says it will give brand advertisers the opportunity to leverage full screen creative executions served within a mobile phone’s most intimate environment.

Liam Walsh, Australia and New Zealand Managing Director for Amobee said Optus Xtramobile allows advertisers to reach audiences who have opted-in to see ads that are highly relevant to their interests and preferences.

“The lock screen format lets brand advertisers target highly engaged audiences, where they are guaranteed a full screen creative canvas and 100 per cent viewability,” Walsh said.

How it works? 

Optus Xtra displays static ads on the locked screen of a customer’s mobile phone and users may be presented with an option to view a video version of the ad or visit the brand’s website.

Customers can unlock their phone as usual when an ad is displayed on their phone screen.

Users can customise the ads they receive by nominating their interests across eight categories – beauty, employment, fashion, government and politics, health, money, technology, and travel.

The competition

Last year Melbourne-based Unlockd has launched in Australia, United States and the UK already with Lebara, Sprint and Tesco Mobile respectively. Matt Berriman, CEO and co-founder of Unlockd, said the move by Optus would grow category awareness, but highlighted the differences between the two products.

“It’s encouraging to see Optus and Postr follow us into the ad-funded mobile space because it only helps to increase category awareness of the value exchange model in Australia,” Berriman said. “Hopefully we’ll continue to see more local carriers do so, in turn helping reduce consumers’ phone bill costs.”

“The two key differences between our offering and Optus/Postr’s are how it works and the value customers derive from it. Unlockd’s method involves ads being displayed when the smartphone is unlocked, and not displayed on the lockscreen. As the ad is viewed upon the unlock, as part of habitual user behaviour, publishers have certainty of engagement and consumption of the 100 per cent full screen viewable advertising which has helped us secure major partners like News Corp, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook Audience Network and Dentsu Aegis, in addition to high profile brands such as McDonald’s, British Airways, Doritos and Lyft. This allows us to provide at least double the value back to the consumer. Optus Xtra offers an extra 1GB or $2 extra credit, whilst we’ve been able to offer up to 2GB in additional data or $5 USD (Boost Dealz) and 3 GBP (Tesco Mobile) each month off for our carrier partners delivering a superior outcome its customers resulting.”

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