Soon, Cell Phones Will Tap Into In-Store Marketing

Remember the jukebox in the corner of the fast-food joint that played your favorite tunes? Here's a twist. A start-up known as Akoo International has spent the last six years developing an interactive entertainment platform that restaurants, retailers, theaters and other venues can tap to market and promote products and services in stores.

The service dubbed m-Venue will officially launch later this year in the United States. Now compatible with the Apple iPhone, Safari browser and Microsoft Windows Mobile, the service lets consumers use their cellular phones as a wireless remote control to activate in-store entertainment.

Consumers will be able to browse and buy music and videos while eating burgers and fries at eateries like McDonald's, Burger King, or TGIF Friday's. More than two million pieces of music, videos, sports clips, trivia questions, and pre-approved user-generated content will support the service. "We needed to customize the application for the Safari browser, so consumers who have an iPhone can use their finger to select the music or video choice rather than a button," says Niko Drakoulis, Akoo CEO.



Through Wi-Fi access or text messaging, the consumer can search, select and cue-up audio and video content on big screens installed at participating venues. Consumers view the free content over standard audio and video systems at subscribing locations. Deals signed between Akoo and music labels like Sony BMG and Universal Music Group, as well as digital content aggregator Orchid, make the service possible.

The eateries pay a subscription fee of between $199 and $499 per month to offer the content and have an option to text message coupons and marketing materials to consumers who opt into the service. McDonald's, for example, might send a mobile coupon for $1 off a cup of its new premium coffees--a thank you for interacting with the system.

"This type of application targets the 13- to 24-year-old market because these are the people whose thumbs get itchy if they can't do something with their cell phone," says James McQuivey, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. "If this model works, it will rely entirely on the advertiser exploring how much the medium can do, because this service will come out of the company's advertising budget, as opposed to other mobile media consumption plans that require the consumer to pay."

Consumers also will have an option to buy and download selected music and videos onto their mobile phone to take with. The purchases are made through third-party providers like Apple's iTunes Music Store.

McDonald's near Chicago completed testing the service in October. Drakoulis declined to comment on prospective subscribers, but says announcements are planned for later this year.

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