NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Telecommunications giant AT&T is reevaluating its telemarketing policy and looking at alternative ways of marketing to customers, according to an executive.
Speaking as part of an AdWatch panel on maximizing media and marketing budgets, Cathy Constable, vice president of marketing communications at AT&T, said: "We were the inventors of telemarketing. Who wants to be called now, nobody. We are looking at things that are more respectful [of customers]."
When asked afterward if those comments meant that AT&T planned to stop calling at inconvenient times of day, Ms. Constable responded: "Not at dinnertime."
Fans of direct marketing
"We are tremendous fans of direct marketing, we are not stopping that, we would always use it if it works," she added.
An AT&T spokesman, however, later denied AT&T had any plans to reduce its telemarketing activities.
Last year AT&T started a guerilla-marketing project that included advertising on pizza boxes, to make sure the company's messages were still in front of consumers when they sat down to eat, and wrapped its brand messages around coffee cups and water bottles handed out for free in California.
AT&T, a sponsor of two hugely successful TV shows, Fox's American Idol and ABC's Who Wants to be a Millionaire, is aiming to set industry precedents for non-traditional marketing disciplines. Ms. Constable said AT&T Wireless' American Idol tie-in, which gave subscribers a chance to vote on contestants' performances, had resulted in 7.5 million text messages being sent.
"That is redefining how we go to market," she said.
Yahoo!'s 'contextual integration'
Another panelist, Yahoo!'s Gregory Coleman, executive vice president of media and sales, said the Web giant was looking to break through conventional advertising clutter by examining "contextual integration" while keeping editorial and advertising separate.
Mr. Coleman himself asked the question that was probably brewing in some people's minds: "How do you do that without blurring the lines and without getting the customer upset?" He said Yahoo! is considering making investments in talent and buying rights to sports games, specialty events and in some cases sports stars.
One conclusion drawn by Mr. Coleman and fellow panelist Graham Bednash, managing partner of Michaelides & Bednash, a London-based agency, was that a lack of cash often made for more creative projects. Mr. Coleman told of riding to an event in a car emblazoned with the Yahoo! logo and hearing people "yoddling" the Yahoo! name from its commercials.
New definitions needed
Calling for a complete redrawing of the marketing map, Mr. Bednash said: "We've all got attention deficit disorder. Every space is filled with an ad. What we see now is what we saw in the '50s. We need a new definition of creativity. Media is still seen as a distribution tool. It's much more complex than that."
Keith Reinhard, chairman of Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, agreed, saying that the days of the "interrupt, repeat" pattern of today's commercials are over. But he stressed that new mediums such as video games, phones and music devices should not been seen in isolation to mainstream traditional outlets.
"It's never an 'either-or' [choice]," he said. "It's an 'and.' "
UPDATE: The headline and text of this story have been updated to reflect clarifications later issued by AT&T about its telemarketing plans.