Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Telemarketing Push and Shove Continues
by Al Bredenberg

Two news items from today speak to a common theme:

Majority of U.S. Mobile Phone Users Against Development of Wireless Directory

Excerpt: "The proposed 411 directory would be a database comprising wireless mobile phone numbers provided by five major U.S. wireless carriers: Cingular Wireless/AT&T Wireless, Nextel, Sprint PCS, and T-Mobile. Verizon Wireless is the only carrier who opposes the creation of the wireless 411 directory."

and

Senator Opposes Changes to National Do Not Call List

Excerpt: "U.S. Senator Bill Nelson Monday called on the federal agency [FTC] responsible for overseeing the national Do Not Call Registry to scrap a proposed rule that would allow companies to deliver taped telephone messages to millions of Americans on the list."

Both of these issues have their complexities and subtleties.

The wireless directory mentioned in the first news release could be set up on an opt-in basis so that nobody would be included without their express permission. And a prerecorded phone message under the proposed FTC amendment would supposedly only be allowed if the caller has an established relationship with the recipient of the call.

Realistically, none of us should expect to go through life without getting marketed to, at least to some degree. Not gonna happen.

But telemarketing is one form that especially seems to generate ire from consumers. David Lazarus at the San Francisco Chronicle recently equated prerecorded telemarketing calls with a much-hated form of online marketing, when he wrote: "If the FTC changes its guidelines, people could be deluged with the phone equivalent of spam," that is, a barrage of prerecorded messages that can't be stopped and don't respond to "No, thank you" (or to profanity).

And if people hate telemarketing calls to their landline phones, I'm pretty sure that goes double for calls to cell phones, which are viewed as a more personal and private communication channel.
I think it behooves marketers to self-regulate by respecting consumers' feelings and avoiding marketing methods that are likely to result in a backlash.

Unfortunately, you can be sure that there will always be marketers who will push the limits just as far as they can, voicing the excuse that 'it's all right as long as it's legal' or 'you can't restrict my freedom of speech' or 'I haven't been arrested yet, so it must be all right.'

And because there are always marketers who are willing to poison the waters, there will always be consumer advocates pressuring the authorities for stronger protections.

The Federal Trade Commission has created an online comment form for consumers who wish to respond to the proposed amendment to its Telemarketing Sales Rule, that is, an amendment that would create "an additional call abandonment safe harbor to allow telemarketing calls that deliver a prerecorded message to consumers with whom the seller on whose behalf the calls are made has an established business relationship."

Want to put in your two cents? The FTC's online comment form is available at:

https://secure.commentworks.com/ftc-tsr/

AB -- 12/07/04

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