Election Day is upon us, and I imagine most Americans are about saturated and fed up with the noxious political ads that pollute the local avails. Most of us are thinking that politicians and their funding cronies couldn’t pay us to experience another pitch.
Oh, but what if they did pay you?
That is the thinking behind FreeEats.com, a service that pays users to get text messages and links from candidates running in their area. No joke.
The system is set up to register the user online and use their PayPal account to make $1 payments for viewing messages.
The whole idea has its own populist spin to it all, too. Essentially it tells the voter that all of this fat money is floating around to finance these campaigns, so why shouldn’t Joe and Jane Citizen get their cut? “The large Internet companies have made billions of dollars by charging candidates, companies and organizations for the right to put their name, products, goods, services, initiatives and experience in front of you so that you will choose them for what you want to do, buy, take action on or sell,” the site FAQ says. “We have figured out a way to put some of that cash in your pocket by cutting out the middleman.”
Once registered the service lets local candidates reach out with messages that outline how much they will pay you to take a message, watch a video, call a phone number, etc. FreeEats says it will cap messages to two a day and have a payout limit of $699 a year. Options for raising your own message cap will come later. Certain minimum exposures may apply, like sitting through at least 30 seconds of a linked video or site.
The company founder, longtime tech investor and political marketing vendor Gabe Joseph, says in the announcement that in just the few weeks the service has been live it has run campaigns in Alaska and Hawaii. The announcement alludes to the possibility of running more general commercial ads on the platform as well.
The idea of paying people to view ads has been a longstanding digital dream that never seems to work out. Remember the schemes in the early 2000s around metering your banner viewing? More than a couple of wireless companies tried to trade ad viewing for free minutes or reduced bills. Other more recent plans have you get credits for viewing CPG ad videos and answering questionnaires and such. It is based on an important development in media, the growing self-consciousness that people’s attention has a real cash value in this ecosystem. So why not disintermediate the entire media infrastructure and just pay people to view the ads instead of media to run them?
Well, it turns out most people don’t really want to invest the time and effort to devote much time and effort to these schemes. We understand in the abstract that our consciousness and attention are worth something on the open market, but no one has made it easy and lucrative enough for many people to cash in on it.
Of course, in this case FreeEats may be onto something. Maybe we should make politicians pay for the toxic advertising that passes for democracy at work.
We have become so accustomed to the toxicity of political advertising in recent years that it is best to sit back and reflect what the implications are of filling the airwaves with such content. I was reminded of this by a story about a Raleigh NC eighth grader who wrote letters to both Senate candidates scolding them for the tone and content of their respective campaigns. She pointed out that neither was explaining how they would help citizens. She felt she wouldn’t be able to vote because all the candidates did was say mean things about one another. “You don’t know what they are really like,” she told a reporter. It sort of makes you pause for a second, break through the political numbness these ads invoke, and realize that kids are watching this stuff too. What impression does does this relentless onslaught of garbage advertising make on these kids about democracy, fair argument, civic responsibility and even the world of adults overall?
Yeah, when it comes to the cartoonish pro wrestling-style narrative that political advertising has become, they should be paying us to withstand this pollution. Or just send us a text message instead.