We bashed eBay last week for inserting voice ads in its “auction alerts,” in which users sign up to receive cell-phone calls about auction status. Among other complaints, we felt the ad system was not being forthright when it claimed to be playing the ad “while looking up your information.” In fact, the system is checking the latest status of the auction when it plays the ad. Unwired Nation founder Eric Smith explains:
We have been powering eBay’s auction call service since it was launched. During that time, we have been piloting the audio advertising element on a subset of calls to measure the effectiveness and make sure that users weren’t negatively impacted by the service.
The pilot has run over six months, and was very successful. Users interact with the ads 14% of the time, and (as you mentioned), the reason for this is because they’re tightly integrated and complimentary to the call.
Monetizing the service indirectly via contextual ads allows UnWired Nation to continue to provide the service to eBay users at no cost.
Just to clarify: When we say we’re looking up the details of your auction, we are actually doing just that — we do not start our high-frequency “polling” processes to catch dynamic price and high-bidder changes until after a user has authenticated themselves via PIN. This is done to reduce load on eBay’s API servers. These processes actually take time to start and instead of playing hold music, silence, or presenting information to the user that is potentially incorrect (stale price/status information), we’re making use of that delay to help financially support the service.