DM Industry Talks to Itself in Do-Not-Contact Debate

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Here's an alarming scenario: Half the U.S. population signs up for the Federal Trade Commission's do-not-call registry by the time it takes effect in October. The other half gets slammed with the remaining telemarketing calls, prompting them to sign up for the registry as well.


As a result, by next winter phones go commercially silent. Family dinners go uninterrupted. Ahhhhh, no more telereps on my phone using riveting opening lines such as, "May I speak with Mr., ah, Ken ... Mah-Gull?"


Did I say alarming? Only if one is in the telemarketing industry.


The problem for direct marketing's proponents is convincing people that some level of intrusion is worthwhile because of the good it does for the economy and, therefore, society. (To those who don't think marketing is good for society, save the angry e-mails; my moron quotient is filled this week.)


The more intrusive the channel, the more difficult the task becomes.


Telemarketing has clearly failed as an industry to convince consumers its activities are beneficial enough to outweigh the accompanying annoyances. As a result, the FTC begins enforcing its no-call list this fall and will be able to fine violators up to $11,000 per call.


Tim Searcy, executive director of the American Teleservices Association, admirably made the rounds arguing telemarketing's case on television two weekends ago when the do-not-call list became available to the public. The following is an excerpt quoting Searcy from a transcript of political talk show "Crossfire":


"Telemarketing employs 6 and a half million people; 2 million people will be put out of work due directly to this legislation - this regulation. And telemarketers provide a low-cost, inexpensive and efficient means by which to get competitive-priced goods and services. When you eliminate that, you eliminate competition; it costs more to get goods and services in any place that you go."


When asked why it's not beneficial to direct marketers for consumers to self-select off telemarketing lists, Searcy said, "Consumers can only determine if they like an offer or don't like an offer once they receive it. Simply stopping the calls before they reach them denies them the opportunity to have a choice. And [referring to exemptions for nonprofits and political pitches] the federal government's picking what they can listen to."


Searcy made similar arguments in an interview with CNN's Lou Dobbs. Give the guy credit for braving verbal tomatoes, but the arguments simply didn't resonate.


The problem with Searcy's arguments against a do-not-call list is that they lack empathy with consumers to whom legislators must answer.


To quote a direct marketing cliché: Every consumer's favorite radio station is WIIFM (What's in It for Me?).


Now that a national no-call registry is a reality, direct marketing's representatives should be telling people how it will hurt them to sign up for it - that is, if such a case can still be convincingly made. The use of predictive dialing has so polluted the channel with cheap, untargeted campaigns that consumers have become rightfully enraged.


Why is this topic in an Internet marketing column? Because e-mail, a medium in which pitches are even less targeted than telemarketing campaigns, is next. Eighty-three percent of consumers in a recent survey said they would like a government-sponsored do-not-e-mail registry, according to a release by market researcher InsightExpress last week.


And while it took a couple decades for a national telemarketing no-call list to come into being, there will be no such lag with e-mail. Spam is simply too infuriating, and legislators are on a roll.


So far, direct marketing's arguments against a national do-not-e-mail list are basically the following: A do-not-e-mail list would be a database nightmare; only the good guys would use it, and their reputations would suffer as the bad guys continued to spam; it would be unenforceable because Asian spammers wouldn't use it; advertising's about new ideas, and, therefore, sometimes unsolicited contact is necessary.


Who are we trying to convince with these arguments? Other DMers?


Picture your mother, having just deleted 10 spam e-mails offering to enlarge her penis, watching someone make these points on CNN.


Suddenly, New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer's do-not-spam registry proposal seems far more likely than it did just a couple months ago.
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