Telemarketer Spots That Kept Us Listening

How Hammerhead Advertising Is Remaking the Cold Call

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You're at work. The phone rings. The pre-recorded message starts.

Or is it a pre-recorded message? It sounds like a conversation, somebody else's conversation, that you've somehow been cross-wired into.
Hammerhead Advertising of Hoboken, N.J., has produced novel B-t-oB phone spots.
Hammerhead Advertising of Hoboken, N.J., has produced novel B-t-oB phone spots.

Voice 1: Uh, how may I help you?

Voice 2: Hi, can I speak to the VP of marketing, please.

Voice 1: Due to security concerns, I'll need a picture ID, please. Could you hold that up, sir?

Voice 2: Um....uhhh

Voice 1: Just hold it up right towards the phone, sir.

Listen to the Audio
point bug High Security
point bug Match Maker
point bug Chocolate Laxative
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Hold it up to the phone? At this point, you realize you haven't blundered into a random conversation at all, but rather a tele-joke of some sort, an audio vignette about a flummoxed caller trying to navigate some mindless security apparatus. But if your voyeuristic interest has evaporated, maybe your amusement has not. The caller's deadpan and the security man's dimwitted earnestness are just so dead on.

Voice 1: According to the rules here ... uh ... there's a possibility we're gonna have to do a strip search.

Voice 2: Wow.

Voice 1: I don't make the rules, sir. I don't make the rules.

Voice 1: You know what? I know you don't.

Voice 2: Please, I'll try to make this as comfortable for you as possible.

How apt a phrasing, for what's afoot here is not a security check but a cold call in progress -- the full-cavity search of new-business prospecting. The perpetrators, as the subsequent dialogue soon clarifies: Hammerhead, a Hoboken, N.J., boutique, which for the past month has put a novel spin on an exercise hitherto unpleasant for everyone involved.

The prospector has to get hung up on or rudely dismissed again and again and again, and the VP on the other end -- should he or she be so patient or incautious to even pick up the phone -- has no idea whether the ingratiating voice on the line is fronting for a competent agency or a shop of horrors. All the prospect knows is that the caller, perhaps unlike some of the current agency roster, at least has some respect for the art of selling.

Oh, and the initiative (although God knows what kind of clandestine activity) to obtain the prospects' direct dials. But, then, so do those clowns who call to sell penny stocks and vacation lots in inaccessible wetlands. The burden on the caller, therefore, is to be very clever very quickly.

Which these guys certainly are. 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. We regret that the following passage, from another one of the three voicemail ads, does not do justice to the perfection in the performances.

Bitchy receptionist: So why don't you leave me your name and number ...

Caller: That would be terrific ... um

Receptionist: And what is your name?

Caller: Mark Rowe

Receptionist: (under breath) Row, row, row your boat gently down the ...

Caller: Yes, row your boat.

Receptionist: R-O-W, right?

Caller: R-O-W-E ...

Receptionist: Ohhh. Fancy.

Maybe you had to be there, but it's not just the production at work here. 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.