@ MobileYouth: Blyk Pleads: Just Don't Call It Advertising; 'Will Attack O2 Prepay'

A month and a half since its UK launch, Blyk – the mobile virtual network operator that offers customers aged 16 to 24 free calls and SMS in return for receiving mobile ads – thinks it’s hit on a formula for success: just don’t call it advertising! Head of sales Jonathan MacDonald, on a very strangely moderated panel about branding, said the word “advertising” should be replaced by “giving you stuff that you like” – “this isn’t advertising, this is what you want, surely you want it!”

Stats: In January tests involving 690 users, only half of those surveyed said they would use an ad-funded mobile service and 80 percent of them said mobile advertising was spam, MacDonald revealed – so specific offers need to be made, like “offer “25 percent off an iPod in exchange for free calls”. Later, he told me Blyk has “several thousand” customers so far and a waiting list with “several thousand” more. They’re receiving ads with a 50/50 SMS/MMS split.

Marketing: And Blyk is letting just such customer surveys and demographic profiling show the way ahead: “We’re not going to dictate that we have a clue what people want – we just set it up.” MacDonald called it “open co-design” – “you should let it be what users want it to be.” If it sounds like Blyk’s strategy is a void the company wants filled by someone else, that’s right. But Blyk doesn’t have a problem with that – the company consciously eschews having a set, single brand identity and MacDonald said Blyk has online and offline communities designing logos and other materials: “I can’t pretend to know what 16-to-24-year olds think is a cool design.”

Orange: On the branding theme, during the panel, an Orange employee in the audience was asked whether the network’s customers trust the company. His response: “They have no choice!”

O2: And a member from O2 let spill the company felt threatened by Blyk: “It’s going to attack our prepay market for sure – we looked at Blyk and said ‘Oh! This is going to be quite surprising to see what’s going to happen.”