I know it’s unlikely (well, it never happens to me, anyway), but
say you were walking down the street and a complete stranger came up to
you and said: ’I’ll pay you to have sex with me.’ What would you
I’ll bet a penny to your pound that, even if it was a gorgeous babe and
you jumped at the offer, in the back of your mind would be this nagging
question: what’s so wrong with this person that they have to pay for sex
- have they got a rash or something?
You might think I am stretching things too far, but I suggest there is a
parallel between this scenario and the idea put forward last week by a
Swedish phone company of providing customers with free phone calls in
return for making them listen to ads. For those of you who don’t know
about it, Gratistelefon’s plan works like this. When you make your call
you dial a freephone number, followed by the number you wish to
While you’re waiting to be connected, an ad is played. After a minute’s
conversation the call is interrupted by a ten-second ad, and then again
after every three minutes.
For advertisers, the logic is simple: the customer is captive. They
can’t zap, they can’t turn the page and they can’t get out of the way.
All of which is true and all of which is, no doubt, very seductive to
But, and it is a big but, there’s that nagging doubt in the back of your
mind. It is this: are the ads so bad that the advertiser has to pay us
to listen to them?
Now consider the way things work at present. By and large, most of us
are happy - most of the time - to watch or listen to ads for free. Why
is this? For the most part - and I generalise here - it is because the
ads are entertaining, fun and, sometimes, even informative. And why are
they like that? Because advertisers know that, without a captive
audience, they have to work that little bit harder to seduce and charm
On the whole, ads that do this are more effective than ads that bludgeon
you to death. I have no evidence of my own for this, just a gut feeling,
but I suggest that anyone who wants to pick a fight with me on this
point should read the feature about ad avoiders on page 32.
But if you flip the whole process 180 degrees so that people are trapped
into listening to your ads, the need to charm and seduce the consumer
will disappear. If, like the Gratistelefon advertisers, you know your
audience is captive, what incentive do you have to produce a good ad,
one that people will actually enjoy being exposed to? None. In short,
the system becomes a rationalisation for bad work, just as advertisers
who say ’forget the creative, we’ll just throw lots of media money at
this’ are actually abrogating their responsibilities to woo their
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve no doubt that Gratistelefon will find plenty of
consumers who want free calls. But they’ll find something else to do
when those dreadful ads come on.