Not too long ago, I received a phone call from my bank, offering me life insurance with a special bonus if I accepted. Incentive or no incentive, what good is life insurance to a single university student in his mid-twenties with no dependants?

In another conversation, I was offered a deal on a cell phone. I politely refused. But the saleslady kept up the pitch. She recited the litany of wonderful uses of cell phones, and that if I signed up right now, I would get a deal on the service.

“No thanks,” I said, explaining once again that I have no use for one (alas, I’m just not that popular). Truth be told, I just don’t like the blasted things…

But what damn good are all these incentives? What good is a deal on a product you have no use for? In an ideal world, nobody would have to put up with the constant barrage of advertising and the circling of vulture-like sales “representatives” that we have grown all too accustomed to. Because this isn’t an ideal world, I would like to propose a kind of incentive that might actually be useful to the customer, even if the product itself isn’t. Here’s how it works:

If media-conglomerate-and-video-chain X would really like me to purchase one of their cell-phones, or the already fat bank wants me to buy their insurance, they could offer me something I would personally find useful or at least interesting. For example, maybe Ted Rogers could drop by and help me paint my house. Maybe the bank could send me one of those comfy swivel chairs the managers have, or better still, hire a few more tellers so I can get through that stupid waiting line in less than half a friggin’ hour. I would sign a policy right now if a few high-ranking bank executives would parade down Bay street at 8:45 am on a Monday morning wearing nothing but togas and pretty flowers in their rainbow-striped clown-wigs, while holding aloft cigar-smoking howler monkeys and reciting dirty limericks at the top of their lungs—just to prove how much they want my business.

That might be a bit much. But how about a “useful incentive” that business can actually understand?

What about paying people for the time otherwise wasted by all this marketing? Free time does not mean free for the taking… Go on—call me up—$2.99 a minute, minimum ten dollars per call.

Seriously. This would be good for both sides. If people knew they were getting paid to listen, businesses would get a much more receptive audience. Perhaps better still, if advertisers and marketers had to pay for the time and attention they take, nay, steal from us, maybe they would think twice before harassing people who might like to enjoy their free time in peace.

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