Free Mobile Airtime With Advertising, Is It Worth It?

I’ve been hearing more and more about services launching under the business plan of providing free mobile airtime in exchange for SMS advertising.  Blyk was one of the first to offer such a service, which has actually proved to be quite popular in certain European countries, but now others are following the trend in other parts of the world.  Will it continue to prove successful?  Would  something of this nature work in the US?

The idea is that subscribers would receive free mobile airtime in exchange for viewing ads in the form of text and picture messages.  Since most users which would find this interesting are in the 18-24 demographic, the age group most desirable with advertisers, it can create an excellent form of targeted advertising to those who participate.

Blyk, which more or less started the trend, began in September 2007 in the UK and quickly grew to over 200,000 members serving over 2000 campaigns with an average response rate of over 25%.  In the beginning, I truly thought this model would never work in the long run, but it looks like I was wrong.  The service is so popular, the company has taken on another $40M in financing to take its service international.  This business model has gained so much traction that other big-name mobile companies such as Virgin have taken notice.

Virgin Mobile launched what it calls its “Sugar Mama” service, which allows users to view text and picture messages from their mobile device in exchange for free minutes of airtime.  The major difference is that Virgin allows its users to rack up free airtime online as well by watching short online spots, rating them, and giving feedback.

My main question is whether this idea will work in the US and other parts of the world outside Europe and Asia.  Blyk and Virgin have big plans to take their respective services international, but will they catch on?  For me as an advertiser, I couldn’t overlook the fact that many users would simply look at my advertisement for a mili-second just to get more free airtime.  Users for the most part aren’t genuinely looking at the ads as something they might pursue, they’re simply plowing through as many as they can to get as much free airtime as possible.  Blyk is reporting that their advertisers see as much as a 25% response rate, so maybe I’m wrong, but what do you think- would this work in the US as well as it does in Europe?