By TARA PERKINS
Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd, wants to pick up the tab for your long·distance calls this summer, and a Kitchener company, OnlinetelCorp., has shown them how. In a wrestling match for precious summer business, brewers have sweetened suds with offerings of T shirts, compact discs, even cellphones and pagers.
But this promotion doesn’t require any purchase. It does require callers to listen to ads chosen specifically for them, before their call goes through. Onlinetel, co-founded by longtime Waterloo residents John Stix and Jody Schnarr two years ago, has developed a Voice Over Internet Protocol network that allows voice information (phone calls) to be sent over the Internet rather than phone-lines. Onlinetel software connects calls free after playing a brief message ad.
The Labatt promotion will use On’ s network in Ontario, The network includes most communities in the province. Residents of these areas can have their long-distance calls within the province covered.
Stix, executive vice-president of marketing for Onlinetel, said the company has now deployed its network across Canada and is pursuing advertisers in hopes of offering free long distance country-wide by next year.
Onlinetel’s technology makes distance irrelevant to the cost of long distance calls because voice data can travel for free over the Internet.
Stix said Onlinetel had the Ontario network established early this year, and approached about 30 advertising agencies with the concept. Labatt is the first company to sign on and now holds exclusive rights to the service in Ontario, in partnership with Onlinetel.
“Labatt, right from the first meeting, just grabbed (the concept) and went with it. It didn’t take much to sell it,” Stix said. Labatt will not disclose the price paid to Onlinetel.
A Web site for the promotion, www.labattblueline.com, allows users to create a profile and get a PIN number to make their calls. They are asked for their beer preferences, general interests, and phone numbers and must verify they are over 19. They are then given local access numbers for the service.
Stix said demographic information collected is used to choose which of hundreds of Labatt’s messages the caller hears. The service can also be interactive. Callers may be asked to press two if they like the service, or to press three to be connected directly to Labatt’s customer service.
Schnarr, president and chief executive of Onlinetel, said the company’s concept allows marketing to be highly targeted. An advertiser could target one neighbourhood in Ottawa, he said, and have all residents in that area hear about an event at a local bar.
Schnarr said Onlinetel is not too concerned about competition, sighting large barriers of entry including the network.
“You can’t really make it any more appealing than free,” Stix said.