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ABC Puts Telemarketing Campaign On Hold

ABC is reconsidering its plan to use a prerecorded telemarketing effort to promote some of its situation comedies, according to the company ABC planned to use to send the messages.

The TV network, which is part of The Walt Disney Co., is considering how such messages would be received by viewers, according to Jesse Crowe, president of Voice Mail Broadcasting, Irvine, CA, the company that was planning to send the messages.

An ABC spokesman did not return several phone calls seeking comment.

ABC was planning to send the messages in 10 major markets using the recorded voices of celebrities from its shows, featuring Norm Macdonald from “Norm” and Gabriel Byrne from “Madigan Men.” The 10-second calls were supposed to promote the network's Friday night schedule for the fall season.

“[ABC] just wants to make sure that it's warm and welcome,” Crowe said. “Some people were concerned it would be an intrusion.”

The taped phone messages would have been provided during the day when consumers were not as likely to be home and their answering machines were more likely to pick up. The system is set up to broadcast a busy signal if a person answers the phone.

It was not clear what aspect of the campaign ABC thought might be intrusive — the messages, the busy signals or both.

Crowe said his company's research found that consumers are less annoyed by answering the phone and hearing a busy signal than they are by receiving a telemarketing call. He said consumer response to similar campaigns has usually been positive.

“We're giving a very short message that's friendly and more entertainment-focused,” he said. “We've done enough of these that we know consumers generally like it if it's got a positive spin.”

Crowe said his firm had never done a national campaign for a TV network. It was not clear whether any other networks had tried the technique. An NBC spokesman said he could not recall the network ever doing such a campaign and CBS representatives could not determine whether such a technique had been used to promote its programming.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act places some restrictions on the use of prerecorded telemarketing calls, but Crowe said the campaign ABC had planned was clearly permitted under the law. While ABC is evaluating its options, Crowe said he is seeking to enlist the help of consumers in persuading ABC to run the campaign.

“I'm asking various fan clubs to express their opinion and go back to ABC and go back to the media and say, 'Hey, I think it would be really cool to get a message from a star that I follow and be able to share it with a friend,'” Crowe said. “That's the whole nature of it. We're not doing a high-pressure sales message at dinnertime.”

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