Perhaps, as a marketing professional, I shouldn’t make biased judgments about a marketing method other professionals accept as legitimate. But telemarketing is a special case. A bothersome, exasperating, irritating, maddening special case.
Every other advertising and promotion delivery system can be ignored, if you choose. You can snub a radio or television commercial by focusing your attention elsewhere, changing stations, or even turning off the set. You can bypass an ad in a newspaper or magazine simply by turning a page. You can surf away from a website with a single mouse-click. You can deep-six your junk mail without ever opening it. You can refuse to look at highway billboards.
But at quarter to seven in the evening, just as you’re sitting down, knife and fork at the ready, to tuck into your dinner, you’re not going to ignore that ringing telephone. No, you’re going to get up from the table and answer it. Because it just might be your cousin from Toledo, or your grandmother in Syracuse, or your neighbor next door, or somebody else you actually know, with a message you actually care about.
But it isn’t any of those people. They know it’s dinnertime, and they have enough regard for you to let you eat in peace. No, this call is from your local Daily Blah newspaper, in the person of some barely articulate lady who knows full well you’re eating your dinner — that’s precisely why she’s calling now, because she knows you’re home — and who seems to think her half-price subscription offer is more important to you than your victuals.
Confronted by such an annoyance, I used to say, “No, thanks, I never read the Blah. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t call at dinnertime.” But two weeks later, of course at dinnertime, another representative of the Blah, this time someone for whom English is not even a second language, let alone the first, again importunes me to join the Blah’s family of subscribers.
The cruel truth is, the Blah just doesn’t care. It’s a numbers game: they enroll one subscriber for, say, every thirty calls they make. Never mind that there are twenty-nine annoyed people — me included — for each ecstatic new subscriber.
I can hang up, of course, but I’ve still had to answer the phone while my food grows cold and the rhythm of my dinner is decimated. I feel the telemarketer owes me for intruding on my life. What he or she owes me is a bit of fun. Assailed by telemarketers for years and years, I’ve finally taken to playing my own games.
TELEMARKETER: This is the Never-Rot Home Siding Company. We install high-quality vinyl siding. Our representatives will be in your neighborhood next week, and we’re calling to see if…
ME: Oh, it never rots?
TELEMARKETER: That’s right, it’s high quality siding for your home. Now, when would it be convenient…
ME: What’s it made out of?
TELEMARKETER: Vinyl. It’s vinyl siding. We could come on Tuesday…
ME: Could you speak up? The battery’s down on my hearing aid. I told Dot, that’s my wife, that she’s just gotta get over to the K-Mart. You ever shop at K-Mart?
TELEMARKETER: Uh, are you interested in vinyl siding?
ME: Vinyl what?
TELEMARKETER: Siding. For your home. Are you interested?
ME: Interested in what? Hello? Hello?
TELEMARKETER: This is George Hammerschmitt, with Merrill Lynch. I’m calling to introduce myself.
ME: Mr. Hammerschmitt, if that’s the best opening you can think up, you have no future in this business.
TELEMARKETER: My name is Norris Westerly, at Gruntal & Company. I’m calling to tell you about an important opportunity in the stock of Retro International.
ME: Retro, eh? You think it’s a good investment?
TELEMARKETER: Absolutely. That’s why I’m sharing this information with you.
ME: Tell me, what did your brother-in-law think of Retro?
ME: Your brother-in-law. You told him, didn’t you?
TELEMARKETER: Why, no.
ME: Do you mean to tell me you’re letting me, a total stranger, in on all this, and you didn’t even tell your brother-in-law?
TELEMARKETER: We’re calling to offer you a one month subscription to the Daily Blah for just $16.50. That’s a full 50 percent off the…
ME: The Blah? Oh, no, I’d never let the Blah into my home.
TELEMARKETER: Why not?
ME: It’s under the control of people who are pledged to undermine our families and our society. The stories are filled with evil.
TELEMARKETER: Really? I never heard that before?
ME: Just read the headlines. Look at the pictures. It’s as plain as the nose on your face. Wickedness, I tell you.
TELEMARKETER: Maybe I should read the Inquirer from now on.
Anyway, you get the idea. Excuse me, it’s dinnertime, and the phone’s ringing. This is the only fun I have all day.