To Avoid Zap Trap, Gurus Recommend New Ad Model: Paying People To Watch Ads

The notion of somehow convincing consumers to proactively "opt-in" to ads rather than avoiding them has intrigued media planners for years. Out of frustration, or perhaps necessity, a group of leading consumer experts this week suggested the ad industy might simply begin paying people to look at its advertising.

At least, that was the advice of J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich Partners, when he appeared at Wednesday's Media magazine Forecast 2005 conference at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Manhattan. Isntead of bristling at Walker's suggestion, his fellow panelists concurred and even noted that, in some ways, the ad industry is already doing this.

"We have to figure out ways in which we can better engage consumers," Smith said. "The thing is that [consumers] want some sort of reciprocity. Pretty soon, we're going to get to the point where we're going to have to pay people to watch our ads. And I do mean cash money."

As the other panelists sharing the stage with Smith noted that "the existing ad model is broken" in terms of maintaining relevancy to consumers, Smith insisted he wasn't being facetious.



"New technology is not the problem," he said. "If we use the new technologies in the same way we use the old technologies, we're just abusing our relationship with consumers in a brand new way. We have research that says 37 percent of consumers give up one hour of sleep a day in order to get more time back in their lives. Do you think that the hour they get back will want to be spent with advertising and marketing?

"And 69 percent of the consumers we interviewed don't say that they're getting new technologies so that they can have a better relationship with marketers, they're trying to opt-out, block, and skip advertising," Smith added. "We have to find a way to combat that."

While some in the audience seemed to regard the prospect of a monetary bribe as a somewhat dubious marketing practice, when questioned them about the considerable attention General Motors' Pontiac received when Oprah gave away 276 GM cars on her show, Jana O'Brien, director of strategic research for GM Planworks, noted that Pontiac was ranked as one of Google's most-frequently cited search terms in months.

But O'Brien cautioned advertisers that such things aren't cheap and that half-measures are costly and can turn consumers off.

"When the Pontiac giveaway was first mentioned, some people asked, well, couldn't we just do half that amount?" O'Brien said. "If you're going to do it, you have to go all the way or not do it at all."

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