Phone your friends for free via ChiChi


IT entrepreneur Patrick Palmi is encouraging South Africans to make a free calls on their mobile phones in exchange for listening to an advertisement from a consumer brand. By Gugu Lourie

The owner of has created a platform called Chichi Sponsored Call Marketing that enables brands to give away instant airtime for free in exchange for listening to a promotion.

The platform will help brands to reach new people. The airtime giveaways may also assist brands to build loyalty with customers, who cannot afford airtime and relies on free WhatsApp calls and SMS to communicate with friends and loved ones.

Consumer brands in South Africa spend millions of rands every year on billboard, TV, radio and print advertising.

But, as everyone knows, it’s getting more and more difficult (and expensive) to capture and hold people’s attention. And when you struggle to measure awareness and sentiment, justifying advertising spend can become a nightmare.

South African mobile marketing agency, has found an innovative new way for big brands to connect with low-income consumers – by using mobile marketing to give them something of value in exchange for listening to a promotion.

“It’s called ChiChi Sponsored Call Marketing,” explains Patrick Palmi, CEO of, “and the basic idea is that, through our platform, big brands can help low-income consumers by giving them free cellphone talk time. The consumer can call a friend or family member for free – all the brand asks for in exchange is that, before the call connects the caller, and whoever is on the other end of the line, listen to a 10 to 15 second message”.

The company has recently ran a campaign where 750,000 calls were connected in a week – that’s 1.5 million consumers (two people per call connected) who heard the brand’s promotion in one week.

“It was amazing,” says Palmi.

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Palmi says Sponsored Call Marketing can be used for so much more than to drive sales, with brands using it to promote in-store product trials, collect data, and even as a reward for loyal customers.

“It’s proved to be extremely popular as a reward scheme – especially in countries like South Africa, where free talk time is highly valuable to many consumers. “

Whats more refreshing is that ChiChi platform enables users who want to make a free call to SMS the USSD code and then get free airtime to chat with loved ones after listening to a brand promo.

The aim for these kinds of sponsored call campaigns is to connect a particular brand with consumers in an innovative way that get people talking about that brand – telling their friends and family about the free call giveaway they received from the brand. claims that sponsored calls work because they give consumers something they value – time to talk to friends and family – rather than simply bombarding them with plain advertising information.

“And in a region where most consumers are on prepaid cell phones, it’s easy to see why this approach is so effective in Africa. Add the fact that sponsored call marketing is so versatile, cost-effective and measurable – and you’ve got a great recipe for consumer campaign success. “If we can achieve all this by giving both sides an advantage, then we’re making advertising better.”

Who is was founded in 2009 after being inspired by the groundbreaking “Please Call Me” concept. It was started as company to provide student residence at the University of Johannesburg with prepaid Wi-Fi Hotspots Access and Wi-Fi Hotspots Advertising.

The ChiChi Sponsored Call platform was launched in 2014 as a free calling service just like Viber, Tango, WhatsAp, WeChat but designed for emerging markets low-end feature phones and accessible through USSD, SMS and the web.

“We believe we can make a difference in our customers’ marketing strategies by leveraging off the large mobile phone penetration in emerging markets to connect and engage with consumers,” said Palmi.




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