“a barcode reader that they hoped we would excitedly use to scan barcodes on ads so we could watch more ads”
Not only they hoped but they succeeded. Citing the linked article:
Over 1,000,000 Internet users pick up and installed a CueCat within the first 30 days of release making it one of the fastest growing and adopted technologies of all time
Basically, they told people they should pay to see more ads and one million people hand out their credit cards.