VoIP: It's Not a Car or a Brand of Vodka

Olga Kharif

Clearly, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), allowing for cheap Web calling, is an exciting technology. Except most people don't know about it. Only some 3.25 million Americans will be using a paid VoIP service by the end of the year, according to researcher Yankee Group. A May survey by Harris Interactive showed that 36% of consumers don't use the service because they don't know enough about it. And another recent survey showed that many people think that VoIP is either a fuel-efficient new car or a brand of vodka.

Well, that might start changing soon.

On Nov. 3, VoIP heavyweight Skype, as well as rivals including Earthlink, Google, Level 3, Sonus and Pulver.com are announcing that they will soon be launching a media campaign designed to make VoIP a household name. These companies plan to survey consumers this year to see what they'd like to know about VoIP and what features they'd like to see as part of the service. Then, in late 2005, they will launch a marketing campaign -- through the Web, blogs, etc. -- designed to tell consumers what VoIP really means.

I think the survey and the campaign are all good ideas. But this initiative probably won't change the world as we know it any time soon. Jim Kohlenberger, executive director of The VON coalition, spearheading the awareness campaign, admits that the campaign will likely not be as ambitious as Vonage's media blitz (and Vonage has been advertising its services on TV and the Web non-stop for months). And, in fact, Vonage -- perhaps the most well-known VoIP brand in the U.S. -- won't even be part of this awareness campaign.

I think a lot more would need to be done for consumers to stop thinking of VoIP as a brand of vodka. This campaign is certainly a good first step in educating the consumers. Let's hope it won't be the last.

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