China Mobile launches ringback tones advertising

Advertising is everywhere in China. In the most unexpected and unlikely places you are bombarded with advertising messages (see for some good examples this article by Sam Flemming). And one more advertising location has now been added to the list: ringback tones. I personally hate the current music ringback tones, and when I call people that use them the conversation may be off to a bad start because of it. Why force me to listen to music you may like? To make matters worse, people normally do not change their music either. One person I regularly need to call has a horrible and way-too-loud ringback tone that has not changed in the past 2 years, and the person probably does not even realize it because she never hears it herself.

But things will be worse soon, because instead of listening to music you will start to hear advertising messages… China Mobile launched the ‘service’ on July 1 with initially 3 advertisers. How does it work? A user can earn back some of his mobile fees by signing up for the program. The mobile user has to download the ringback tone for 0.5 RMB. From that moment on everybody that calls the number will hear the ad, and the person gets 0.03 RMB per call. Per month you can earn a maximum of 10 RMB, which means that you have forced about 300 people who call you to listen to ads.

Right now the advertising ringback tones are only available in Beijing, and there has been hardly any promotion for it. Currently about 3000-4000 ringback tones are broadcast each day, but that number will grow exponentially when more people will learn about it.The service will be rolled out nationwide later this year. I do not look forward to it.

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  1. Hi Marc
    You might look at, a permission based Advertising-ondemand platform…!

  2. Haha Marc, you have to admit you wish you had thought of it 😉 I think this is quite a creative revenue-sharing model.
    Personally I dislike all kinds of advertising; it’s mind-numbing, but it’s a part of life and I have learned to ignore it. Be it pre-roll ads before videos, banners on websites or in the subway, you cannot avoid it and it only becomes more and more.

  3. True, it would have been nice if it had been my idea :-).
    With regards to banners and pre-rolls, would you prefer a model where you could choose to pay so you would not see ads? It is something I have thought about, but in China people prefer to see ads in order to get free content (because most people have time, but no money).

  4. @marc; I think pre-roll ads (and other kinds of ads like on the side of the videoplayer) are indeed most appropriate for China. I think it’s hard to convince people to pay for stuff that was free before.

    A while ago I read the opinion that commercials by themselves are not annoying, only non-relevant commercials are annoying. So perhaps if you could make the advertisements relevant to the viewer (and to the video), the approval ratings will go up? I’m interested in relevancy/recommendations from a technical perspective. Interesting challenges here!

  5. Relevancy is one of the most important things in advertising, therefore targeting is so important. You can do that for example with the profiles of your users, or by looking at what the clip is about (a clip about babies has a different viewer profile than a car racing clip for example). For online games we can do something similar based on the kind of game people play. Cannot give more details here, but rest assured that this is an important issue for all big websites and that advertisers are also asking for it.