Editorial: Grim week for telemarketing

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More than 12.5 million consumers signed up for the Federal Trade Commission's do-not-call list in its first five days. That's more than 2,300 people a minute, and well over 10% of all U.S households. The quick success of the plan is both a likely crippling blow for the telemarketing business and a warning to marketers that rely on overly intrusive tactics: Your time is past.

Telemarketing will not die overnight. There are exemptions to the do-not-call rule (charities and political organizations, among others, can still interrupt your free time). And some companies likely will use stealthy opt-in techniques, such as sweepstakes, to create the appearance of a previous relationship with consumers. (Companies that have "existing business relationships" with members of the public are allowed to continue calling them.)

Still, it would be a nearsighted brand steward who ignored this overwhelming public vote against telemarketing-often so crudely employed it's hard to imagine how it graduated from being called "cold calling." Much of the more than $80 billion spent on telemarketing must and will be assigned to smarter tactics.

That should not include e-mail spam. Consumers are just as fed up with spam, and unresponsive to it, as they are to telemarketing. The major Internet service providers are doing what they can to tighten spam controls, and government regulation is surely only months away. Turning to spam from telemarketing would be regressive and a sad indictment of the marketing community if it cannot come up with more effective ways of reaching purchasers.

The modern consumer is marketing-savvy. The creation of the do-not-call list will only heighten their feeling that they have the ability, and right, to screen the messages they receive. Whether or not all marketers are ready to accept it, intrusion-based marketing is out. Invitation-based marketing is the future.

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