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Virgin Mobile USA is giving hard-up youngsters the chance to make free phone calls in return for watching ads. The "yoof-oriented" cellco has hooked up with ad outfit Ultramercial to launch the ad-for-airtime service called "SugarMama".

So far, Virgin Mobile USA - a joint venture between Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Sprint Nextel which boasts some four million punters - has recruited Xbox and Pepsi, among others, for the ad service.

Punters interested in SugarMama must first fill out a "demographic profile" before confirming that that they are at least 13 years old. Once the admin's been done, they can watch a streaming video ad.

Customers get free airtime depending on the number of correct questions they can answer about the ad. Alternatively, they can respond to text-based ads to earn free minutes.

Either way, the suits behind the scheme are looking to generate revenue from mobile advertising. For advertisers, it's yet another way to get their brand or product across to this hard-to-reach youth audience.

"Everyone is racing to shove ads into the mobile channel," said Howard Handler, top marketing bod at Virgin Mobile USA. "But the last thing young people want is spam on their phones.

"This service acknowledges the savvy and free will of our customer base. Our attitude, and that of our partners, is that these customers' time is valuable. They should get something for giving us something. And that's what SugarMama is all about."

Earlier this year mobile marketing firm I-movo began recruiting punters to beta test a new service that offers mobile phone users in the UK to send text messages for free in return for viewing ads on their phones. ®

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