'Them Newfangled Internet Phones'
(Sponsor: Lok Technology)
I got together Monday night in San Francisco with a few people I worked with at my first online project, CMP Media's late and all-but-forgotten NetGuide Live (if you buy Ted and me a sarsaparilla -- one each, actually -- we'll tell you all about it). That was back in 1996. Not exactly the dawn of time for Internet media, but still early. The occasion for our get-together was a brief Bay Area visit by one of our copy editors who has since gone on to become a reporter for Reuters, first in Ankara, Turkey, now in Istanbul. Inevitably, everyone went around and said what they're up to now. One guy is publisher for a network of online videogame and entertainment sites. Another is the chief editor for Restoration Hardware, responsible for its catalogs and store collateral. I mentioned that I'm doing some freelance writing, including blogging on VoIP.
The response I got was kind of surprising. One friend asked, "What's VoIP?" Another, who was carrying the latest version of Nokia's N-Gage, said, "Yeah, what is that? Is it for real? Will everybody have it?" The point is that these are bright, interested and interesting folks who have been working in the digital world for close to a decade; and despite the huge increase in exposure VoIP has gotten over the last year, they're still wondering what those newfangled Internet phone services are about. That's only an important observation insofar as it makes you think about the best way to sell VoIP to the masses and helps you set expectations for how rapidly the new services will spread.
I think Vonage and CallVantage have been on the right track: Don't call it "v-o-i-p" and never say "voyp." Just tell people you've got a phone service, only better. The only other company whose advertising has stuck in my head is Covad, which has shown up on TV a lot promoting its business-oriented service. The commercial is entertaining -- it evokes a crime drama, with corporate IT types pointing fingers for some telecom purchase that's gone wrong -- but I can't for the life of me figure out exactly what it's trying to sell that way.