But one company, headed by a former Nokia executive in Miami -- is betting it has found a way that will really get your attention -- by taking over the whole screen with an ad after every call. The service is called MyScreen, and it's done trials with companies like McDonald's, BMW, Dove, Paramount, Calvin Klein and Ticketmaster.
"When we started to show this to advertisers and carriers, they immediately took the message that this is the only way today that they can deliver a brand experience in a non-intrusive way to consumers," said CEO Maurizio Angelone, the former head of Nokia's Latin American division.
Angelone said having the whole screen is a compelling sell because it's hard for advertisers to get a message across in a tiny banner ad, or by sending a text message, "which is not something the consumer is very happy to get without any reward."
With MyScreen, the whole phone screen will show an advertisement every time a user hangs up on a call. A user can hit a key to learn more, or close it by hitting the end call button again.
MyScreen is headquartered in Toronto but has offices in Miami. It just made a deal with Latin America's largest mobile operator, América Móvil, headed by Carlos Slim, to launch the advertising service with carriers in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. MyScreen also made a deal to launch in Turkey with mobile carrier Turkcell, scheduled to start in the next few weeks.
MyScreen reported it has secured $1.5 million in advertising commitments. Data from the Mobile Marketing Association shows adoption could be good for the company in Latin America, as 65 percent of cellphone customers in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are "moderately to highly" interested in advertisements on their phones, and 30 percent are "very likely" to opt-in to receive mobile advertising messages.
The MyScreen's ad service is an application that would be built into new phones sold by América Móvil and Turkcell, or for current customers who can log on to the website to download the application.
An advertising agency would make a deal with MyScreen, which would partner with a cellphone carrier -- and all three would get a cut of the money spent by the brand. The consumer, in turn, gets a reward for every ad they see.
In the case of Latin American carriers, the plan is that customers could get one free text message for every 10 ads viewed, to as much as one free text for every three ads viewed. There is a daily limit, to prevent customers from abusing the rewards program by calling and hanging up over and over again to see more ads. They would also get 100 free text messages for signing up.
Latin American cell plans don't often have the same unlimited text-message plans that customers in the United States have.
"Text messages in those markets are still quite expensive, when you compare to the U.S. where you have unlimited text messages," Angelone said. "It's a big reward for the consumer."
So if it were to roll out in America, he said a different reward system would be implemented, like rewarding with minutes.
"We do it case by case, country by country, because markets are very different," Angelone said.
Paul Kultgen, director of mobile media and advertising for Nielsen, said the reward system seems to be a strong play. In its most recent data, only 10 percent of Americans were open to getting advertising on their phones. But it increased to 32 percent if it could lower their bill.
"So it's clear, like other mediums, consumers are receptive to advertising if they see a benefit,'' Kultgen said.
Nielsen found more than 2,600 companies advertising on mobile devices, compared to less than 300 18 months ago.
MyScreen tested the system in Turkey in August with 500 users for four weeks.
"The results were so good, that Turkcell decided to move forward with the commercial launch and go live as soon as possible," Angelone said.
Mobile ad spending is expected to increase next year, according to ``The State of the Industry: Mobile Advertising'' report by DM2PRO and Millennial Media.
In the report, 31 percent of respondents said they would invest between $100,000 and $249,000 in mobile advertising, and 15.4 percent plan to invest more than $1 million.
About 28 percent of responding agencies had not developed a mobile marketing campaign yet.
[Photo above was taken by Miami Herald Staff Photographer Marice Cohn Band.]
Note: Due to an executive's misstatement, an earlier version of this story had the wrong numbers regarding how many ads it takes to earn a free text message.