This is a wall on Sansom Street in Philadelphia near 16th Street. Do you see the small holes between the two large windows in this photo? Back in 1999 during the height of the first dot-com boom, a company named Popi installed a pay phone here. It was no ordinary pay phone. You could make calls for free but the catch was that you had to listen to a short ad before your call was connected. So in essence, the advertisers paid for your call.
I can’t find any information on the internet about this company or anything like it. I’m only 90% sure it was even called “Popi.” This post is here for anyone that might be performing a similar search. Please add a comment on anything I’m missing.
I think there were a few issues with this “free pay phone” business plan. First of all, regular pay phones were already becoming unpopular because the use of cell phones was rapidly increasing at that time. Secondly, the only people I ever saw lined up to use this phone were the homeless and those down on their luck, not exactly a big sell to advertisers. Finally, advertising is about reaching as many people as possible. How many people would actually hear the phone ad in one day compared to the airing of even one radio commercial?
I always meant to try it out and see what kind of ads they were playing but the phone was disabled before I ever got a chance. That was around 2001. By 2007, it had decayed to the point that all that was left were the holes you see today. I really wish I had taken a picture of it, but I assumed there was no rush. Even though it was an ill-thought out dot com bust idea, I at least thought it would be around for a few years.