What if advertisers were willing to pay people to view their ads?

As newly empowered consumers actively avoid ads, Empathy president Mo Dezyanian wonders if incentivizing them to view could be a solution.

I’ll start with a hard truth. People. Do. Not. Like. Ads.

If you’re like me and have built a career in advertising, you may be in denial about this. That’s normal. If so, please read Mark Ritson’s research-backed analysis, or reference Deloitte TMT predictions 2018.

People avoid ads whenever and wherever they can. As a marketer, you’ll find coming to terms with this quite freeing. You can stop throwing fits, turn down the Linkin Park on your headphones, wash off the excess mascara and get on with life as an adult (I grew up in the 90s if that wasn’t obvious).

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s debate some really interesting questions.

What if people got paid to see our ads?

This isn’t the first time the question has been raised, but more recently it’s front and centre. Bunz and Loblaw are both exploring payment—or more accurately rewards—for ad consumption. What would happen to our industry if that were the norm?

Is it good for the consumer?

Yes. The old economies of advertising no longer hold true, yet (as often happens), the outdated processes remain. Historically, advertising was designed to fund, or at least subsidize, content distribution. Free TV! But with ads. Cheap newspapers! But with ads. And so on. As the cost to distribute content has dropped, advertising isn’t subsidizing distribution nearly as much: It’s funding content curation using technology.

In other words: “Yes, theoretically you have instant access to effectively limitless information on the web. But if you want to find what you need, or have us find it for you, you’ll have to use our service, which—of course—runs on advertising.” Today’s tech giants are built on this premise, and the glue that holds it all together is consumer data. Data that technology companies have collected with or without permission (that’s a debate for another time). Data they are using to fuel their businesses.

And, more pertinent to our argument, data that you the consumer should own, control, and benefit from. Within that context, the idea that you are rewarded if your data is used—a so-called data dividend—is fair and commendable. I won’t argue with that. No sir. Kudos to those companies.

Is it good for the media?

Probably yes. I’d argue that it will fundamentally change the relationship between media and consumers. It’s certainly a new business model. And what interests me the most, and the topic I want to broach now, is how media will incentivize you for your personal data.

For starters, those running diversified businesses are at a clear advantage. Case in point: Loblaw, which has grocery stores, drugstores, brands and loyalty programs. All this makes it easier to ask for people’s information in return for value. But you can’t argue that Loblaw is not a media company. They weren’t when you were a kid, but they are now.

Another example would be if you are in the search engine business but you also sell hardware. You can connect those dots—say, free phone in exchange for your search history? It wouldn’t be surprising if hardware and connectivity prices were lower if consumers were paid to see ads.

But what about those who don’t have diversified revenue streams? Would businesses introduce the idea of a reverse subscription? We, the publisher, pay you a share of ad revenue if you read our magazine (and thereby, be exposed to our ads). Can notable publications run as co-operatives?

Whatever the model, at the end of the day, one can only imagine that if consumers know why and how their data is being used, their relationship with media will be more transparent and trusting. That is bound to be good for the media.

Is it good for advertisers?

Define “good.”

When I heard about Bunz offering digital currency as a reward for ads, I sent it to some industry friends. A few of them, notably brand managers, wondered how it would drive value for brands. And that is when it dawned on me: Whether actually paying people to watch your ads is a good thing or not, thinking as if you have to pay them certainly can be.

This is a world where media is fragmented like never before, and targeting options are maddening—even for industry insiders. Perhaps this would be the best question to ask ourselves: what is the real value of getting our message in front of an audience?

Put another way… Are you confident that your message is relevant enough and your ad is compelling enough that you, personally, would pay me—the viewer—to see the ad?

For advertisers, could this become the new yardstick—a willingness to pay to see? Because if people see our work and think: “Man, you couldn’t pay me to look at this,” aren’t we just wasting our time? And our money?

Mo Dezyanian is president of Toronto media consulting group Empathy, and a professor at Centennial College’s School of Business.