Chummy telemarketers The Next Damn Thing

I don't know about you, but I am starting to get telephone calls from marketers. Not the kind of calls that say We're cleaning carpets at several homes in your neighbourhood next week, and - no indeedy....

I don’t know about you, but I am starting to get telephone calls from marketers. Not the kind of calls that say We’re cleaning carpets at several homes in your neighbourhood next week, and – no indeedy.

Not the kind of calls an ad agency gets from printing salespeople on a slow day, the kind that say Do you ever need to buy large-format, low-volume digital colour printing for your clients or maybe not?

I’m getting a new kind of call. A kind of call where someone who does not seem to be reading from a script rings you and, sounding something like your brother-in-law would sound, if you had a brother-in-law, chats you up about a holiday condominium project, or a new air miles credit card.

The voices are friendly, colloquial, not in the least obsequious. At any moment they sound like they might break off the Hey, do you ever get out to the West Coast much? line of questioning and invite you to their golf club for a round next Saturday. They seem to have a file on you, and probably do. And I’m wondering if they’re The Next Damn Thing in direct marketing.

Now, we all know that Next Damn Things get started because the goddamn Last Damn Thing doesn’t seem to be working anymore. Oddly, I got a Last Damn Thing from an outfit called Intrawest, who incidentally rang me, in their Next Damn Thing mode, a day later. The contrast was illuminating.

Intrawest, it seems, is a company that develops vacation villages in places like Whistler, B.C., Collingwood, Ont., Mont Tremblant, Que., blah blah. So via direct mail one day, I get a personally addressed packet of purple cardboard that looks about the right size to contain a CD-ROM. Hold on, It’s not a CD-ROM. It’s like, like a deck of flash cards!

On one side, the cards have blurbs of, excuse me, kind of la-de-dah airhead copy that could be about anywhere, like Be part of a proud new tradition and, on the other, rather unremarkable illos of people we are supposed to want to be, on skis mostly. Because the cards are loose in the packet, they soon get out of order (if there ever was any order) and fall on the floor and you go aw phooey and chuck the whole thing into the round file.

Now if I’m the only one doing that, and it’s because we’re not Collingwood ski people, we’re Muskoka island people, well shame on their database. But if 50,000 people are doing that, and if it’s not entirely the database but it’s the too-cute-to-handle and too-blah-to-interest direct mail piece, well that’s another matter.

But for whatever reason, somebody must just have said The hell with this nonsense. We know they’re out there. Our database says they’re out there. For God’s sake just PHONE ‘EM UP and see if they’re breathing!

Because two days later, the phone rings and it’s my ol’ pal at Intrawest, asking if I get out to the coast much, and maybe I’d like to take the wife and pay just 69 bucks a night to stay at a new Vancouver waterfront development they’re doing. I’m not keen, but suddenly we’re chatting, bantering! Finally, he tips me to buy the stock! He’s pushing condos, he’s pushing stock, WHATEVER! I manage to get off the phone before he invites me for dinner, but barely.

Next, I get a call from a lady at UUNET. She wants to know if I or any of my clients want Internet services. Well duh, I think, they already have Internet services, but I was wrong once before. So not to be rude to this nice-sounding lady, I say send me something if you like.

Well, three days later I get a personal letter and brochure consisting of 16 pages of the most turgid, boring, incomprehensible-to-human-beings blather, set in teeny-tiny eight-point type, devoid of meaningful photography or illustration. Copy (ha!) that reads throughout like this: UUdirect ISDN…employs digital technology to support reliable packet-switched data transmission at 64 Kbps, 128 Kbps, or 256 Kbps. So that’s why they exist!

If this is their print, God knows, they’d better get people on the phone or they’re dead meat! This stuff is (a) not intended for what we commonly call business people, or (b) UUNET’s marketing department has been re-engineered by a dark force of extra-terrestrial zombies.

My third New Damn Thing call of the week was from Jean-Pierre, a charming and intelligent-sounding representative of a new Scotiabank Gold Card, that appears to be targeted at my CIBC Aerogold card. That’s the one that turned us into Points Pigs, in that it gets us at least two tickets to Europe most years. We had a warm and sympathetic chat, and he promised Scotia’s offering would be useful on airlines that got us in to Iberia and Italy. He’s sending me the print stuff. If it’s as bad as the other stuff, he’s got a job for life.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He writes this column to blow off steam, and as a thinly disguised lure to attract clients who may imagine working with him could be a productive and amusing experience. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.