VentureBeat reports on Intera Group’s use of Bluetooth to deliver coupons/offers to mobile devices as they walk by/near locations for which the offers are for:

Over the past seven months, Intera and the pier’s Hard Rock Cafe have sent 100,000 messages to consumers walking by with their cell phones in the “discoverable? Bluetooth mode. The Hard Rock sends promotions that are immediately redeemable at the restaurant or store. Bob Boemer, head of sales and marketing for the local Hard Rock, said in a statement that the results have been outstanding.

Pleasanton, Calif.-based Intera Group is a 20-year-old company that operates several thousand pay phones around the country. It started the proximity marketing business in part to take advantage of the fact that some of its pay phones are in ideal locations, such as at Pier 39, where 12 million tourists visit every year.

[T]he company has set up a number of Bluetooth networks at Pier 39, covering about 5 percent of the area. Each Bluetooth network is set up near a place where people congregate for a long time, such as a spot for viewing sea lions, a tour bus waiting area, or the queue for the aquarium.

As annoying as these marketing messages could be, Thornton says that the company hasn’t gotten a single complaint yet.

One reason is that the Bluetooth messages are carried wirelessly over a 200-foot range radio network, making them much more relevant as ads, location wise….Also, consumers have to put their phones in “discover? to receive the messages.

After the successful test, Thornton said he is hopeful the Hard Rock will roll the ad system out in more locations. Other places that can use it are gas stations, hotels, and high-trafficked tourist spots.

As far as a business model, Intera could rely on more than one nearby customer to either pay a flat rate or compete for attention (you’d need a sufficient number of customers to drive prices sufficiently high enough or set a floor). Bluetooth is definitely an intersting way to go…the article estimates 20% of people have their phone discoverable with Bluetooth (watch out for security issues).

The company that will figure out a better way to do this will do well…they’ll have to figure out a way to get a larger number of customers/advertisers (this has been difficult for web and mobile coupon/offers products) as well as increase their reach in a scalable/cheap way. Utilizing Bluetooth requires multiple devices installed in a small area to get sufficient coverage. If someone were to be able to build something utilizing GPS and SMS despite various technical limitations (i.e. unable to run in the background on many mobile devices to poll for location and any nearby offers, etc), I can imagine having a successful model. This may not be easy but it is definitely not far fetched.

It’s a matter of time before people start understanding how distance form a user’s search location becomes far more relevant in the mobile space than on the web where people may search from the center of a big city or postal code.

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