Telemarketers, School Ads First Targets of New Consumer Group

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Telemarketers are high on the target list of an organization launched this week that says it is backed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and aims to fight "corporate predators and the debasements of advertising and commercialism."


"We're going to help families, parents and kids defend themselves against harmful, immoral or intrusive advertising and marketing," said Gary Ruskin, director of Commercial Alert, Washington, DC.


Among the organization's proposals: a dinnertime family hour during which telemarketers will be prohibited from calling homes.


"One part of the direct marketing industry that is very intrusive and offensive to millions of Americans is unsolicited commercial calls in the evening when families are gathering together at the dinner table," Ruskin said. "Families are more important than the mercantile bombardment of telemarketing messages."


Restricting telemarketers' calls during the dinner hour certainly isn't a new idea, but so far it has been fairly easy to shoot down with legislators, said Tyler Prochnow, an attorney who represents the American Telemarketing Association with Lathrop and Gage LC, Kansas City, MO.


"It's rather difficult to enforce," Prochnow said. "If my clock says 5:58 and yours says 6:02 and I call you, have I violated the law? [Also], who's to say that 5 to 6 is dinner time?"


Economics also is an issue, Prochnow said.


"You're taking away time that would otherwise be a profitable business venture for a lot of companies," he said. Instead, consumers have options like asking to be placed on a company's "do-not-call" list that will limit calls from telemarketers without banning the practice.


Also on Commercial Alert's hit list: advertising in schools.


"Schools exist to teach children how to think and to impart basic skills and knowledge, and that mission is absolutely incompatible with advertising, which is a form of propaganda. We're going to encourage schools to become ad-free zones," he said, specifically mentioning New York-based Primedia Inc.'s in-school television station Channel One as a marketing effort that Commercial Alert would like to see gone.


Commercial Alert also wants to eliminate corporate and trade-group funding for university research centers. The organization's goal, however, isn't to stop marketing completely.


"Some base mercantile values like marketing, money grubbing, greed and profits have risen above some more traditional American values like home and family," he said, "and we just have to place these commercial values back where they belong."


And how does Commercial Alert plan to sell itself?


"I don't know that that's the right choice of words, but we'll be talking to a lot of people in a lot of different ways just as these groups have done in the past," Ruskin said, adding that the Internet will play a large part in the group's efforts.


Commercial Alert's Web address is www.essential.org/alert.
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