Innovate and Disrupt – With a Slant On Sociology

April 21, 2008

Unsolicited Telemarketers Model – Revisited.

House lawmakers have introduced a legislation to put unsolicited text ads under do-not-call rules as part of SMASH Act 2008.

How different are unsolicited phone calls – land or wireless – from unsolicited conversations and communications in the physical world?

What makes communication over airwaves any different from a street peddler trying to sell a souvenir or tour tickets or handoff local business fliers or free ad supported local newspaper? Are people more annoyed about receiving an unsolicited phone call than an unsolicited offer on streets and pubic domains?

Well, if one argues that unsolicited phone calls in their private premises (home) is lot more intrusive than an unsolicited offer in a public space, how could one justify this regulation on a cell phone – where the receiver could be at a public space?

Well, one could argue that the unsolicited is getting charged for such calls but would this be okay in the world of unlimited calling plans?

City of North Olmsted, Ohio has created a “do not knock” list to ban door-to-door salespersons to sell their wares.

Unsolicited communication occurs – everywhere around us – in the house or outside the house.

Everybody encounters advertisements, billboards, posters and neon signs on the streets. We choose to consume what we like and ignore those we don’t care to know about. While these are unsolicited visual messages, how different are these compared to phone calls? If unsolicited visual messages are ok, then why is it not ok for telemarketers to send an unsolicited graphic or video (as long as the receiver doesn’t get penalized for the communication by the telecom operator) to a mobile?

These visual messages are to drive awareness-knowledge so that when there is a subjective need for a particular message, it becomes easy for us to go seek those messages out. But then again, most individuals play a passive role when being subjected to awareness-knowledge. For example, even though there are restroom signs everywhere in malls, we usually have to seek out them when we have the need to go.

Predisposition of individuals does influence their reaction towards these mass (visual and audible) communications.

Coming back to passive role individuals take towards mass media communication, does this mean we are forced to take an active role when someone drives an awareness-knowledge via an unsolicited telephone call? What if there are technologies and solutions for telemarketers to communicate over airwaves that eliminate the need for active involvement? For example, caller IDs communicating to the recipient that the caller is a telemarketer and the message is regarding – a credit card or non-for-profit donation or travel promotion? All the cell phones have caller IDs and landline users without caller IDs phones are dwindling by the minute. Another option would be to catalog all the telemarketer calls and let users retrieve appropriate messages based on their disposition. While one could argue that Google is currently addressing that need, but I question how effective a job is Google doing in finding me what I am looking for.

Argument that consumers do not want to receive unsolicited communication in private premises would not hold water either as we are subjected to unsolicited messages through our television, newspaper, Internet (at home), etc. Then, are “do-not-*” legislations emerged to protect the interests of mass media outlets? Because, small vendors who are banned to reach out to their target audiences via telephone solicitation, are forced to pursue mass media outlets – which dolls more money to mass media owners. Also, lets not forget the fact that mass media marketing comes with a value add to the consumer – free broadcast television or radio along with marketing messages, free news and so on.

Am I barking up the wrong tree? Network owners – wired and wireless operators – want to control communication on their networks. Then is it safe to say that the real motivation for do-not-call list is not really to protect the consumer but to provide a better control for the network operators? Similarly, we are subjected to unsolicited messages in the mass media because marketers are sponsoring the actual content or service and that content/service is of high quality.


So, we can draw some interesting conclusions from this rant …

Ø Unsolicited messages that are non-intrusive might be tolerable.

Ø Unsolicited messages as part of something valuable – subsidized content or service might be an acceptable model. It is critical that the quality of the subsidized content or service should be at par or better than other available choices.

Ø Consumers don’t want to be charged for unsolicited messages.

If one argues that these “do-not-*” lists are there for consumers to make a choice to not to receive such unsolicited communication, consumer’s selective exposure to the messages that are consistent with their current disposition might not be accessible to them. For example, just because I don’t need a 0% balance transfer credit card offer deal this very minute, don’t restrict my ability to find that message when I need it. If I am able to retrieve all the telemarketer calls that offered 0% balance transfer credit card offers, when I really need one, wouldn’t that be lot more useful than completely blocking my ability to receive such messages for ever. What if consumers could program their telephones to receive certain messages based on their current dispositions? What if consumers could search and query certain solicitations as needed. This means there should be a technology for telemarketers to load up their daily, weekly and monthly deals, promotions and offers in some centralized location and make targeted messages available to consumers based their current dispositions.

Incidentally, UK’s MVNO Blyk is subsidizing service for eyeballs. While this is an innovative model within the mobile space, there were many such models in the early days of Internet and computer industry. Most of business models such as PC giveaways and free Internet for watching advertisements survived but for few months in the mid to late 1990s. The reason earlier efforts failed mainly because of lack of quality unlike their older cousins – broadcast media. Second reason for PC giveaway failure was commoditization of PC industry that didn’t differentiate this model from conventional models. If Blyk doesn’t fall pray to lack of quality and mobile industry commoditization, they might actually have a chance to survive a few years with this model.

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