I like Bob Garlfield. Though I have never met him, I have read his countless columns and heard him on PBS. I usually like his wit and introspection. Until his latest salvo in Ad Age.


Bob goes out of his way to praise a telemarketing cold call. Yes, that’s right. In the age of consumer empowerment (which he has written about and praised) and at a time when commercial intrusiveness is at an all-time high (which he has bemoaned in many editorials), Bob decides to laud one of those calls you get at dinner time, only to discover when you answer that IT’S A FRIGGIN’ COMPUTER RECORDING!!!!!

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Not content to hire real people to bother you, marketers just throw a recording on the computer, press play and walk away. A machine does all the rest — meaning, a machine intrudes on your quality time, ruins your serentity, wakes you up, disrupts your life, and actually destroys the concept of time.

Bob says that a novel telemarketing recording is actually pretty good, because it’s clever and creative.

As unsolicited intrusions go, this stuff is pretty engaging. This is thanks to the writing, and especially the acting, by an improv-comedy troupe called the New York Subway Alligators.

Screw that! The key word isn’t engaging (which is an experiential imperative), the key word is INTRUSION. The foremost directive for experiential marketing is to conduct it when and where the consumer is most responsive to it. Is dinner a good time? How about first thing in the morning? Is there any good time for an “unsolicited intrusion” into our lives? No, of course not. So why is Bob so keen on it?


The stunt also demonstrates some media ingenuity. Till now, recorded phone messages had been the province of politicians and other cheap hucksters, bothering you mainly at home with the hardest of hard sells. The notion to use the phone as a business-to-business medium for produced spots is inspired. Also, by the way, inexpensive.

Furthermore, the agency name and phone number are repeated twice in each bit. Which isn’t so fancy, but certainly completes the connection.

Oh Bob. What are you smoking? Whatever it is, I’ll just say no.

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