Artima Suraphongchai grew up in a family that does not view advertising as a consumer, but as a critic. After all, her father is Vinit Suraphongchai, the working committee chairman of Adfest, an advertising festival for Asia-Pacific. His work has exposed Artima and her sister to the immense amount of creativity that goes into creating an advertising campaign, and she can never look at any advertisement merely at its face value.
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"Ever since I was a little girl, I have always been an analytical viewer. When I saw a TV commercial, I would think about the idea, the execution and whether the message was successfully conveyed. Throughout my childhood, I had listened to so many professional comments from the judges of Adfest - a definite perk of being my father's daughter," said the vibrant entrepreneur.
She has always been aware that in today's world, advertising is inevitable and inseparable from our lives, to the point that sometimes people tune out altogether when they see or hear an ad. Advertisers therefore must try to step out of traditional advertising platforms and seep into the lives of the target audience in a fresher, newer approach to compete for positive attention.
"Consumer attention is now very scarce because everyone is very busy and there are so many competitors. This calls for new platforms and new formats of advertising to capture the attention of the right audience, as nowadays, consumers are bombarded with advertisements and information, and getting to them the wrong way could negatively influence your brand."
Artima has bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical and electronical engineering from Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, UK, as well as an MBA from Chulalongkorn University's Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration. She was happily working as a business consultant when one day her friend called her up about a new idea for advertising in Thailand - voice branding when making a phone call.
"The idea is very simple. We all use mobile phones, and a lot of people would love to get free minutes. Why don't we ask companies to subsidise the calling cost in exchange for advertising? It was such an excellent idea that I was on board immediately," she said. It took Artima and her friends a year to set up everything as the idea is very out-of-the-box and has never been done anywhere in the world. Although a few other countries have something under the same concept, it is not quite like what her company, Echo 360, had in mind.
For example, in Turkey and India, you could sign up to get free minutes in exchange for being the advertisers' platform. People who call you will involuntarily hear the ads.
"But we think that it is better to do something permission-based. The person who signs up should be the person who listens to the ad. Moreover, it allows the system to pick the right ad based on the provided information such as age, gender, interest and profession."
This advertising method, adorably titled Freebie, is set to launch sometime this month, and Artima is confident it will rock the advertising industry in Thailand.
"According to mobile phone operators, mobile phone numbers actually outnumber the population, because some people have more than one phone. It is an underutilised advertising platform and I see great potential. It's a win-win advertising method - the user gets free minutes and the advertiser gets to speak directly to the target audience."
However, the challenge is to grab the caller's attention in 15 seconds.
Artima is aware that some advertisements can be annoying and boring, which is why she makes it a point to screen the advertisements and rejects ones that could bore the callers.
"Advertising today has changed so much. Sometimes you don't even have to say anything relevant to the product - you can tell a joke and mention that this ad is sponsored by your brand, and that can be very effective as well. If you are a financial institute, giving an investment tip could be better than trying to sell a product.
"We have to be very picky when it comes to the ads that we put in our service, because user experience is vital to our brand. If they hear annoying, irrelevant ads, they wouldn't be interested in our service. They have to enjoy the content and have fun with what they hear," said Artima.
Although Freebie is a new media, she is confident that it will be well-received. So far, she has secured the trust of many advertisers, who range from dining outlets and department stores to beauty brands. Each brand will have its own target audience, and Freebie's system will match the ad with the caller based on the background information upon registration. However, she pointed out Freebie is no replacement for traditional media - it's simply a new option.
"Every media has its own value, and I don't think anything can really replace anything. Even within the same media, whether an ad works or not depends on execution. Getting the right message across to the right person is what advertising is all about. Freebie is a choice for advertisers who want to speak directly to the target audience without interruption. The fact that it is permission-based also helps, because people let down their guard a bit more and are more open to the information they are about to hear."
What makes this system work for Thailand is the fact that calling cost in Thailand is cheaper than many other countries, such as the UK or the US.
"As the advertiser has to subsidise the calling cost, the cost per listening in Thailand is reasonable enough for Freebie to be an attractive choice. If the calling cost is 10 baht a minute, like in Europe, advertisers wouldn't be interested," she said, adding that the company already has plans to branch out to other countries in Asia. "We expect the revenue to double annually," she added.
About the author
- Writer: Napamon Roongwitoo
Position: Life Reporter