In Defense of SPAM and Telemarketers

EAG, April 2, 2004

By Paul Weber
from Johnson County Business Ledger

Its 6 p.m., dinner is on the table and the phone rings. Would you like your carpets cleaned? No thanks, I have hardwood floors. You just won a fabulous free trip. No thanks, I don’t travel much. Would you be interested in a free siding estimate? No thanks, my house is brick.

So goes another evening of telemarketing calls in many U.S. homes. For some, the phone ringing at dinner time is as regular as the nightly news. In our house, the telephone ring has replaced the dinner bell to signify the evening meal.

But even with years of dinner interruptions, I must still defend telemarketers and their right to reach us to buy their goods and services. And while we’re at it, I might as well defend SPAM and the right of companies to market via the Internet – whether we invite them to or not.

It’s at this point that I usually lose my audience by taking this very unpopular stance, but there’s a method to this madness. As a marketer, I seldom suggest unwanted telemarketing or e-mails as a lead generation tool. Not because I think it’s inherently wrong, but because it’s inconsistent with my clients’ desired image.

The consuming public largely perceives telemarketing and SPAM as less than reputable. That’s a good enough reason to avoid it. But to have the government legislate telemarketing into non-existence is not at all healthy for business or the economy. We already have a defense mechanism in place to protect consumers. It’s called capitalism.

There is an economic theory called the “Invisible Hand of Capitalism” that protects all of us, not only from unwanted advertising, but also from many forms of scams and rip-offs.

It’s simple – in our economy we react to consumers’ demands, wants and needs quickly and effectively. If we don’t buy, the company goes out of business. If there is demand for a product, then we respond and purchase.

And the Invisible Hand of Capitalism invites wonderful innovation to help meet these consumer demands. When telemarketing interruptions escalated, the marketplace developed caller ID and call blocking. Increasing SPAM resulted in the development of SPAM blockers. When we got tired of increasing commercial time on TV, savvy minds created TiVo. The marketplace is full of examples of companies matching their innovation to our growing demands.

But don’t misunderstand. Not one of these innovations came to market just because we wanted the convenience. There was a consumer need and a willingness to buy. If we legislate even the most intrusive methods of business communication, we risk stifling the very creativity that developed these products.

There are an equal number of examples of government intervention that resulted in undesirable outcomes. One only need look at the airline industry to see an example of when capitalism would have been a better regulatory control than government.

There are very reputable companies using telemarketing and e-mail as their primary lead generation tools, selling quality goods and services. How do I know? They’re still in business. If nobody was buying, they wouldn’t be.

Government can better serve us, not by regulating telemarketing and e-mail marketing, but by helping us become better consumers.

Institutions like the Better Business Bureau and Consumers Union are invaluable in guiding us toward reputable businesses. More money directed toward consumer education vehicles would help drive capitalism, not thwart it.

Regulation has a place in our economy. But the power of the Invisible Hand of Capitalism is often overlooked.

My telemarketing calls during dinner have diminished and I get less unwanted e-mails these days, largely because I don’t choose to purchase via these channels. And when the phone rings or my inbox fills, I rely on my caller ID and SPAM blocker to control the intrusion. I thank the creative, innovative minds who developed these tools, yet I defend the right of advertisers to reach out using whatever means the marketplace determines appropriate.


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