Will Consumers Accept Telemarketing Calls for Cash?

If consumers hate telemarketing calls so much, Daniel Shifrin has a proposal that might make the calls more palatable: pay consumers cash to listen to prerecorded calls.

His idea is to pay consumers for every outbound call they agree to receive. According to Shifrin, his Web site, Adnoodle.com, has 10,000 registered consumers with a goal of more than 1 million participants within a month.

Adnoodle is working with e-mail marketing provider Data Resource Consulting Inc. to increase membership. Data Resource Consulting, which has a database of 85 million contacts, will try to convert some of its consumers into Adnoodle members via an upcoming e-mail campaign, Shifrin said.

Incentive-based marketing is not new, and marketers have used various rewards, including cash, to try to persuade consumers to view ads and buy online, mostly without success. Adnoodle may be the first to offer cash rewards for telemarketing calls, and Shifrin said he has a way to ensure that people who agree to receive the calls do listen.

Consumers who register with Adnoodle provide up to three phone numbers by which they can be reached, plus an e-mail address. They also submit profile information about themselves and set a bid price of how much they expect to be paid for each solicitation.

Advertisers select which consumers they wish to call based on their profile and whether the bid price is in their desired range. Consumers who set the bid too high won't get a call from the advertiser. Bids between 10 cents and 50 cents per minute will generate the largest number of calls, according to the Web site.

A recorded message of varying length is sent to consumers, who can choose to receive the call by pressing “1” on their phone keypads or can hang up. Adnoodle calls can be recognized on caller ID, and the recorded message announces that the call is from Adnoodle at the start.

After listening to the message, consumers have to answer correctly a multiple-choice question about the ad to receive payment. Payments are transmitted via PayPal.

“We know for a fact that you listened to the ad,” Shifrin said. “But we also know you comprehended the ad.”

At the end of the call, consumers may speak to a live agent from the advertiser if they wish to make a purchase immediately and also are offered a chance to receive a coupon. Adnoodle sends two follow-up e-mails, one as a thank you for accepting the call and another with instructions on how to receive the payment, each with a link to the advertiser's Web site.

Though there are no exact historical parallels for Adnoodle, cash incentives for advertising have mostly flunked online. For example, the “pay-to-surf” model, in which advertisers paid consumers to use Web browser tool bars that displayed ads and tracked their surfing habits, had been declared dead by some analysts by August 2000.

The pronouncement came after pay-to-surf businesses including AllAdvantage.com and MValue began seeking new business lines, such as online sweepstakes, to diversify themselves. Despite these efforts, AllAdvantage closed in February 2001.

In August 2001, online customer loyalty provider MyPoints.com shut down the cybergold.com site, which it had acquired one year earlier in an all-stock deal worth $157 million. CyberGold's concept was to pay consumers for responding to online ads when they took certain actions prescribed by the advertiser, transferring money directly to consumer bank or Visa accounts.

When CyberGold filed for an IPO in 1999, the company sported an impressive list of clients, including EarthLink. But MyPoints.com converted CyberGold customers to its more traditional points-based rewards program, stating that it needed to “streamline its business focus.”

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