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Apple's Really Dumb Idea: Nazi-SPAM

Apple computer just invented the planet's dumbest marketing idea. It's a patented form of online advertising that FORCES you to pay attention. It locks up your computer or phone until you take some action (like correctly answering a question about the ad) that proves you're paying mental attention to the ad.

It's not just SPAM. It's Nazi-SPAM. Achtung! You vill read zis ad or else!
The New York Times article decribing the method says that Apple thinks this marketing technique would "enable computers and other consumer products to be offered to customers free or at a reduced price."

Here's why this is a seriously dumb idea.

First, the free-if-you'll-accept-intrusive-ads concept has bombed every time it's been attempted. (E.g. the "Free PC" in the U.S., the "Henphone" in China.)

Second, Nazi-SPAM is a great way to make prospects and customers hate your guts. When ads go beyond what's normal on broadcast TV or radio, I think that most people start to actively avoid the product being advertised.

I'll say this much: if an ad EVER hung my device until I asked answered some jackass question, I would NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER buy whatever was being advertised. NEVER. And I would badmouth that product and that company every chance I got, to anyone who'd be willing to listen to me.

I don't care if I got the device for "free." I would deeply resent ANY advertiser who interrupted what I was doing in order to FORCE me to pay attention the ad.

And I believe that would be true for any product sold in any environment. Take B2B for instance.

Imagine doing sales for a company that was creating "brand awareness" using Nazi-SPAM. The only way you'd get a prospect to talk with you would be to claim you worked for somebody else. You'd have to a fake a coughing fit every time the customer asked for your firm's name.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Nazi-SPAM is the greatest idea since the Ipod.

READERS: What do YOU think? Feel free to leave a comment.

This is an article I wrote about a similar concept, way back in 1999. The idea flopped, big time, even in China, where you'd think the "free phone" concept would work.
The Egg-Laying Hen Phone By Geoffrey James

Cheng Dong is part of a new breed of Chinese businessmen: high-tech entrepreneurs determined to drag China into the information age. He's the president of the Shenzen Reality Planning Co., ( which plans put a million free mobile phones in the hands of Chinese citizens. The idea is similar to the so-called "Free PC" concept: As users listen to advertisements on the telephones, they earn minutes that they can use to make free calls.

It's not a new idea. An American company, BroadPoint Communications, has been offering a similar system in the U.S. since the beginning of 1999, as has the Swedish company Gratistel. The fact that those trials might be considered experimental, has not dissuaded Cheng from soliciting investors in this much more ambitious scheme.

According to Cheng, the potential for sales is so great that profits are virtually guaranteed. "For a product like this, you can get profit first and investment later," he explains. The key to his company's future, he believes, is the fact that he's customized the concept for the Chinese market. He believes that China is ripe for such a service because mobile phone service costs from $400 to $600 a year - in a country where the average yearly wage is less than $900.

Officially known as the "Trafee Mobile Phone," Cheng's product is nicknamed "the egg-laying hen phone" as explained in the English language version of the inch-thick "Planning Scheme of the Trafree Mobile Phone Project":

The logo of Trafree Mobile Phone Project is a lovely cartoon fat hen, swinging her wings, strolling along and laying eggs. The hen's belly is designed in a shape of mobile phone. This perfectly combines the figure of a hen with the shape of a mobile phone (in Chinese language, the sound of "hen" is the same to that of "telephone"). The Trafree Mobile Phone is a "Hen Phone" that can "lay eggs." What a surprise!
The "eggs" are packets of free telephone time, which are deposited to the listener's account whenever he or she listens to an online advertisement. The "hen" motif makes sense, because if there's any place in the world that has a positive association with poultry, it's China, where a chicken in the back yard is still an asset to be appreciated.

To ensure that the listener actually hears each ad, responses are required at certain times. If the user hits a key that generates a financial transaction, the likelihood of getting a larger egg increases. The more you listen-and respond-to ads, the less it costs to use the phone. It's a little like a lottery. The "eggs" can be large or small, depending on the listener's luck. That's also a big plus in China, where gambling is a national pastime.

Listeners can choose the advertisements they want to hear and when they want to hear them-an essential point in a busy society. The "Planning Scheme" points out that "you can freely select ads time, no matter you are on the bus on in toilet." The potential to earn money, according to Cheng, is enormous. As the "Planning Scheme" points out, "No wonder that the Trafree Mobile Phone is called 'dropped pies from heaven.'"

One thing is certain: Once the company is up and running, there should be no lack of potential customers, because in China, a cell phone is a major status symbol and an important acquisition for those who live in areas where regular telephone service is unreliable or unavailable. Those lucky enough to have a cell phone advertise the fact by setting the phone, not just on "ring" but on "ring with music." As a result, the typical business meeting in China is interrupted several times an hour, sometimes by tunes as incongruous as the first four stanzas of "Jingle Bells."

Cheng lists the hen phone logo and accompanying Web site as a significant intangible asset, partly because of its innovative color scheme. As the "Planning Scheme" puts it, "The green color represent life while yellow represents sunshine (and) the combination of the two means that the Trafree Mobile phone is like a newly born child who is growing up healthily under the bright sunshine."

While the marketing for "egg-laying hen phone" seems a bit awkward to western ears, the fact remains that China's government agencies and academic institutions are both taking the Trafree plan very seriously. The quality of Cheng's connections can be assessed by the strong presence of his company at the recent China and the Knowledge Economy conference held in Beijing, where Cheng shared the podium with some of the country's most important political economists.

In addition, Cheng's company has received positive coverage by all the major media outlets in China. In the long run, Cheng even plans to expand the concept into the United States. "The Trafree project is a perfect example of how China can contribute to the worldwide knowledge economy," according to Cheng.