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Listen Up!

Watts is about to let you in on the future of advertising.

I was traveling to Seattle and had arranged for a car service to pick me up at the airport. When the driver didn't show, I called the service to see what the delay was. I didn't expect what happened next. I picked up the phone and put it to my ear. From the other end of the line, I heard a voice-synthesized operator intone: "If you're willing to listen to a 30-second commercial, this call is free. Push '1' to pay for the call or '2' to hear the advertisement."

It dawned on me: I was being paid to hear advertising! And I realized this was the future. Many companies are already building business models based on paying people to hear advertising. Incen-tivizing is being done via rebates and discounts, allowing consumers to keep the money in their pockets. Expect to see more of this.

Everything about your life is now chronicled, cataloged, stored, recalled, assembled . . . and sellable. Your very existence has a calculable economic value. Your banker can compile a list of attractive customers and extract payment from companies that want to introduce their products and services to you.

So the key questions are: What does your business need to do differently to take advantage of this phenomenon? Should you totally rethink the concept of how to promote yourself? Dorothy Lane Markets, a grocery in Dayton, Ohio, actually stopped advertising and started rewarding its existing customers with high-value store coupons (it really is the same concept applied in a twisted way). Is this a better approach for you? Conversely, could you find high-potential prospects who would accept compensation just to listen to your pitch? It could be the beginning of a beautiful long-term relationship.


Watts Wacker-lecturer, bestselling author, political commentator, social critic and CEO of FirstMatter-is one of the world's most respected futurists.

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This article was originally published in the March 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Listen Up!.

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