Oct 20, 2009 at 04:49 AM
written by

Will Marketers Finally Free Wifi?

If you're tired of paying hourly rates for your internet connection, sponsored wifi which by many accounts struggled at best as a standalone business concept, may be making a comeback as a marketing one. Last week, we ran into a pop-up hotspot from Coke and Delta in the trendy meatpacking district. With Google's announcement today that they'll be providing sponsored wifii for Virgin America flights this holiday season we couldn't help, but think perhaps marketers are ready to give wifi another go. Of course, with today's announcement we couldn't be reminded of Google and the city of San Francisco's ambitious plans to prove free wifi for all back in 2005. After Google and Earthlink eventually dropped the project, last year a company called Meraki picked up the idea and has been trying to launch an ad-supported wifi network in some municipalities including San Francisco.

While there have been some marketing missteps, such as AMD's guerilla rollout of sponsored hotspots (stealth even to some of the owners of hotspots AMD said to have sponsored), sponsored wifi has always seemingly offered promise. Wifi provides a highly valued service in many environments, reaches an attractice marketing demographic and has the opportunity to generate direct leads and sales online. However, provider driven advertising and sponsorship opportunities haven't exactly captured marketers imaginations. Sponsorship, of any form is not an advertisement or a charitable donation. It seems some providers were treating it as such. So now, marketers are taken things into their own hands and developing their own experiential initiatives around wifi that deliver on a diverse set of marketing benefits (sampling, sales, lead gen, etc.). While these unique ideas may not always be easy to scale, it also just might mean a sponsored wifi model that actually works for providers, sponsors and users. Here's three relatively recent marketing driven sponsored wifi experiences:

The Sponsor - The Hitch - The Alternative

1. Starbucks/AT&T

Hitch: Fill Up Your SBX card with at least $5 and get 2 hours of free wifi on every visit.

Alternative: AT&T Wifi at ~ $20/month

2. Google/Virgin

Hitch: Not sure about the hitch, but Google says it's simply looking to bring a holiday stress reliever to Virgin America flights

Alternative: $13/long haul flights

3. Delta Diet Coke Wifi Zone

Hitch: Sample Diet Cokes and learn about new routes (not so bad huh?)

Alternative: ~$49.99 Sprint Aircard

Ok, so while wires are strictly prohibited sponsored wifi does not come without strings. Try bringing a pepsi into a diet coke wifi zone. Think Bing will be easily accessible on Google wifi? But we accept this trade-off for a sponsored/discounted experience. As a customer I'll gladly Bing, Google, Mahalo or any other verb that wants to sponsor some free wifi on my next flight.