At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, AT&T announced a new feature for advertisers—sponsored consumer data—which enables companies to pick up the tab for consumers’ data usage fees. While details are limited, the announcement lists three initial partners in the healthcare, advertising and technology industries, one of whom is UnitedHealth, which will sponsor data for customers to see healthcare info or video content from their insurance company. Verizon is also planning a similar offering for its customers and advertisers. Consider the ramifications of this new feature, which gives companies a new way to reach and engage consumers willing to trade time for access to free data.


Similar to mobile advertisers, data sponsors can partner with wireless providers to target their customers. While the extent of this targeting remains to be seen, the breadth and depth of the top wireless providers’ customer databases indicates that sponsors may be able to segment mobile users based on demographics, psychographics and even mobile behavior like data usage. Of course this raises some data privacy concerns around the type of data providers can share with advertisers and how advertisers can use that data. But it also presents potential for companies and consumers to more effectively navigate and negotiate the exchange of privacy for personalization and promotions.

The possibilities are endless and span every industry. Retailers could sponsor data for mobile shoppers, targeting consumers who are in proximity of their stores with branded content including digital ads and rich media storytelling. Media companies could enable travelers to download television shows and movies, enticing them with subsidized data usage at airports, hotels and in-flight. Even employers who want to encourage employees to engage with some applications and types of content, but not others, may be able to sponsor data used to access only those specific tools and resources.  Sponsors may also be able to use interactive web experiences and content to collect user data.

Companies should remain aware of this service offering as more details become available and more mobile providers offer a competing service. In order to determine if and how a test of this service might fit into your digital marketing strategy, have a clear and detailed understanding of your customers’ mobile behavior. How do they use their mobile device? To what extent does their mobile usage include data? Do they have data plans? On average, what is the cost of their data plan? How price sensitive are they and would their price sensitivity motivate them to take action in exchange for data subsidy? If so, what type of action aligns with your objective and enables you to engage your customers and gain additional customer insight?