Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stop Calling Me!!!!!

You may have noticed that it’s election season. How do we know this? Because we’re seeing a billion television ads telling us that someone who wants our vote will make the sun shine brighter and our food taste better. . . or will make the sun go dark and eat our children. And what’s worse, they have your phone number, and they aren’t afraid to abuse it.

Campaigns are expected to spend just over $4.2 billion in advertising in this election cycle. Most of that goes to television ads, but a good chunk now goes to robocalls. Not only are robocalls a waste of money, but I would suggest they actively hurt the candidate. Let’s start with television advertising because the difference between television ads and robocalls is what makes robocalls so toxic.

I honestly don’t care about television advertisements; I pretty much ignore them: “Oh look, my show is going on a three minute hiatus, where’s that remote?” Or else I mute them because the networks like messing with the noise level. . . apparently most people go deaf during the commercial breaks.

But even if they somehow continue to blare in the background, I use the ultimate self-defense weapon: indifference. Indeed, the only times I pay attention to ads are when something strikes me as odd about the ad, for example, when they go out of their way to avoid saying something (drug companies, finance companies, car dealers, etc.), or when they play race games (Vonage) or they try to sneak gay characters into ads (Digiorno, Progressive), or when they hire actors who are supposed to make you think of currently popular politicians.

But since they barely reach my consciousness, television ads don’t bother me. So go ahead and waste your money, you won’t hear me complaining. But robocalls are different because they can’t be ignored.

Robocalls are computerized calls where some politician or washed up celebrity records a message to you about one or more candidates that will be on your ballot. These things are so annoying, that they typically do more harm than good. Indeed, time and again politicians find themselves running to a microphone to apologize for something that was said in one of these messages or trying to pretend that they knew nothing about the call that suggested that Sen. Whatshisface is a cannibal or a crossdresser or a crossdressing cannibal. And did you know Sen. Whatshisface gets money from dwarves? His mother used to beat black orphans professionally! He even wants to put children into mines. . . which actually sounds like a better place to store them than your average high school.

Everyone hates these.

Oddly, politicians know these things backfire but they keep doing them. How do we know they understand this? Because they are constantly getting caught putting out fake robocalls “from” the other side, which are intentionally insulting or annoying. They wouldn’t do that if robocalls weren’t ticking people off. Yet, despite all the press conferences begging forgiveness and denying involvement, they continue to put these things out. Why? Because politicians are stupid; they operate on the principle of drooling moron see, drooling moron do.

So what makes a robocall so annoying? Well, for starters, I’m getting 3-5 a night. And unlike television ads, you can’t avoid them. What’s worse, they target times when no decent human being would try to get your attention, like when you’re eating dinner or Saturday morning when you’re trying to make up for all that lost sleep.

Moreover, talking to a machine is aggravating. At least when regular phone solicitors hire retarded chimpanzees or teenagers to call you, you can mess with them. For example, when they insist on calling you by your first name, tell them “that was Uncle John, who died last night when an alien burst out of his anus,” and then start sobbing. Or quiz them about their knowledge of America and throw in the occasional insult at India. Or when they try to fight with you after you tell them you aren’t interested, ask them what they’re wearing. That’s guaranteed to get them to hang up. But you can’t do any of this with a machine. No. Your best material goes to waste on these stupid machines as John McCain prattles on about the merits of someone he’s never met.

What makes candidates think that calling me 3-5 times a day at a time that is guaranteed to piss me off just so a machine can lecture me is going to make me feel favorably inclined toward said candidate? Do they not know that every time they call my house I consider not voting for them (or trying to find a way to vote against them more than once)?

Frankly, I hope the inventor of phone solicitation is rotting in a warm place with a pitchfork rammed up his posterior. . . and I feel much less charitable toward the inventor of the robocall. It’s time this practice stopped. It’s time candidates swore off this insidious advertising strategy, or maybe we should start striking back. Maybe we should start calling them at all hours, telling them why we’re better than the guy across the street? Maybe that will finally get the message across.


Tennessee Jed said...

Although not perfect, my preferred way of dealing with them is via caller i.d. If I have my t.v. on, the number will flash on screen. If it is unidentifiable or clearly a solicitation, I just don't answer. If I don't want to have to delete the message, a quick lifting of the receiver to hang up gets the job done.

Joel Farnham said...

Your playing with the live callers reminds me of this.

I heard it a few years ago.

I wonder if some of these robocalls are designed to upset people. Say someone was calling for Reid. Instead Calls for Angle. Saying Reid hires prostitutes. Or something just as bad. Finishing with; Thank you, paid for by Angle For Senator PAC.

Now, Angle can legitimately say she never would have approved of that robocall. Reid certainly not approve of it. And annoy the voter to either not vote for Angle, or vote for Reid just to get back at that ad. Or even not vote at all because politics has gotten so dirty.

T_Rav said...

I have a slightly different perspective on this, as I worked on a senatorial campaign in '06 and then again for McCain in '08, and most of that work involved phone and door-to-door solicitation. Yes, I was one of those nasally brats who called or knocked on your door right at dinnertime. Sorry.

Anyway, while I was never involved with robocalls (they're illegal in Missouri), we did read messages off from a script and leave them on people's voice mail. It was very clear to me and others that this constant bombardment was driving people crazy. The explanation the staffers gave us was that over-saturation was better than not making enough of an effort, and that the people who told us they wouldn't vote at all if we kept calling, didn't really mean it. I have no idea whether or not that logic really holds up, but that's part of the reasoning that goes into things like robocalls.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's how I deal with most of them. But it's still annoying that the phone either rings or flashes while I'm watching a film at 9:00 pm or having dinner or trying to sleep Saturday morning.

And some of these people are incredibly persistent.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, That are constantly catching people putting out "fake" robocalls, where they are ostensibly calling to attack one candidate, but are trying to be so obnoxious about it that people get disgusted with the candidate they assume is making the call.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, That's something that marketing people have long believed -- that there is no such thing as "bad" publicity, i.e. that people may tell you that they are upset by it, but that they won't actually act on their anger.

I think that's false. First, I've seen it happen. . . a lot. In fact, I've known quite a few people who have been so turned off that they simply ignored the election (or product). And when it comes to product advertising, I know many people who hold the advertisements against the companies. (Also, the opposite is true -- it's been shown that even great ads can't save a poor product.)

And if you want more proof than just my anecdotal evidence (which is of course unreliable), then I can point to two things. First, they have done studies on campaigns and they found that after the first $700,000 in advertising, the rest is basically wasted because it changes no opinions. Basically, you can introduce a candidate, but you can't really sway people's minds. So the benefit of bombarding people with calls after they are already alerted to the election is basically zero.

Secondly, as for refusing to participate, let me suggest that polls that show voter discontent with the negative tone of campaigns, combined with constantly falling voter turn out is probably evidence that people are dropping out. Clearly, there could be multiple causes for this, but I think the negativeness of the campaigns (which are a robocall specialty) is a contributing factor.

Finally, if these things really did work, then corporations would adopt them as a regular means of advertising, but they haven't.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, you're probably right. Personally, if I got called at 9 or 10 on Saturday morning by someone in these campaigns, I would be irritated but nothing more, because I'm already determined to vote and in a specific way. But then I'm a political junkie with no life. I'm more than certain that some of the people I called got so fed up that they didn't vote at all.

Unfortunately, I don't see it changing, because making all these calls and door-to-door solicitations is largely an end in itself. Our campaign offices measured progress in terms of contacts made per day, and there wasn't much thought as to whether the contacts were actually doing any good. Then again, we did save Missouri in '08 by some massive GOP turnout, so maybe it does some good. I don't know.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I think you're right that it won't change until someone comes up with a better alternative. Marketing people are herd creatures and they keep doing what the other guy did last until someone comes along with something better. And using measures like "contacts" as a success measure is like using body count in Vietnam. It sounds measurable, but it's really irrelevant.

The thing to consider is this -- who is your target audience and how will they respond. Hardcore voters will always turn out, they don't need the robocalls. Unenthusiastic voters are unlikely to respond to the hard sell approach of robocalling and constant contacts, and probably will respond negatively by either badmouthing you are simply not turning out.

That leaves the in-between group. These are the people who are willing to be influenced, but aren't quite there yet. And I'm not sure how robocalls would influence them. These people tend to need a more hand-holding approach, and computerized messages don't give you that.

I think the real key to turn out and support is finding the opinion leaders (a concept that has been gaining favor for years now) and getting them the information they need to decide to support you and to turn out their friends. And I don't think you can reach those people in a positive way through a dozen robocalls. These people need to be specifically targeted and their specific concerns addressed. That's why politicians visit churches, VFW halls, etc. -- they're looking to talk to the people in the community who can influence everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Andrew: I haven't answered a phone in twenty-five years at least. I have an old-fashioned answering machine. Walter Matthau played a Supreme Court Justice in First Monday in October. During a conference, the phone kept ringing. A fellow justice finally asked him why he didn't answer it. Matthau replied "a phone has no constitutional right to be answered." Amen! If I'm home, I'll monitor and answer it if I choose, once I know who's at the other end. If I'm not home, I can quickly erase the robo-call messages. Only my family and closest friends have my cell phone number, and I'm on "don't call" with that phone.

Long story longer, I will take a call from the candidate personally if he or she is willing to debate during the call. Anyone else--bye bye. The last time I actually got one of those calls it was a candidate for Ventura County Supervisor. That would have been 1984.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, We're on the don't call list too, but that doesn't seem to stop politicians and charities. I tend to use the Jed method, by just handing up once I see the caller id. But I have some people who call and their numbers don't show up.... which is the same thing that happens with many of the robocalls -- though most seem to be coming out of Chicago these days. So I still often end up picking up only to hear that stupid machine start talking.

In any event, I find the whole thing very annoying.

Ed said...

I hate phone solicitors! Also, I don't believe a thing they say in these calls, so they're wasting their money on me.

CrispyRice said...

I hate those things, too!! Ugh.

I worked as a telemarketer for about 3 hours one summer during college. In those 3 hours, I "sold" 4 credit card offers. (In the days before the no-call lists.) I've spent the rest of my life thinking, who are these people who bought them?? Everyone I know just gets annoyed and hangs up. If it weren't for those schmucks, there would be no telemarketers. Ugh!

Ponderosa said...

$4.2 Billion! Really? Wow really?!?

[half kidding] No wonder the media is "liberal".

Option 1: All major races: 3 civil & logical debates, using a standard format and a neutral moderator on free TV in four hours segments.


Option 2: In every contested race charge outrageous sums for emotionally charged two minutes slices on public [but highly regulated] airways. let’s see:
“If it bleeds. It leads.”, makes $$$ then:
“If it is true. We'll eschew.” = Big bucks!

I know! Present problems.
But instead of no solution.
Use anti-solutions!! Woo hoo!

The debt is at a record high.
Anti-solution: Spend more!

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I'm not sure anyone believes anything they see in ads anymore. We are living in a cynical age, but that didn't come about by itself. I think it came about by millions of Americans watching themselves get lied to day in and day out by everyone from political leaders to religious leaders to teachers to the media. There comes a point where you stop trusting these people, and then the next step is to stop listening. I think we're in that final stage now.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Excellent observation. It's the same thing with e-mail spam and with beggars at traffic lights. If people stopped handing them money or responding to the e-mails, they would go away. But there's always some sucker out there who thinks they are doing a good thing (or thinks they are getting a steal).

I used to watch this guy in DC outside my office who would drive up in the morning in a brand new truck. He parked at a grocery store, then walked to the media with his sign and stood there for about 4 hours. Every other red light, someone gave him cash. An article in the newspaper around that time said that these people can "earn" up to a $1,000 a day doing that. Sick huh?

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, I think you've tapped into the liberal mindset there!

I am not a fan of restricting free speech, and one of my biggest concerns with campaign finance is that it's intended to enhance the power of unions and the media.

But I do think politicians would be well served to announce that they will not use, support or sponsor any phone solicitations. In fact, it would probably help them a lot to announce a code of conduct designed to let the public know that they are serious about the issues, that they aren't into mudslinging, and that they won't be trying to beat us down with things like robocalls.

Not only do I think that would generate a lot of good will, but it keeps you from having to spend money on things of questionable value.

Robocall said...

{{{ring}}}...{{{ring}}}...{{{ring}}}..{{click}}...Hi, This is {{BEEP}} for {{BEEP}}. Are you tired of calls from candidates you wouldn't vote for? Then vote for me and I promise I will never call you again. If you don't, I will keep calling and calling until you do, so you might as well vote for me. You've got nothing to lose except phone plan minutes.

This is {{BEEP}} and I approved this message.{{click}}

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! Very nice... very ironic "Mr. Robocall"!

Ed said...

I thought you'd like you know that I got called twice tonight. Lol!

DUQ said...

I'd know robocalls were illegal in Missouri? I like that idea.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, At least it wasn't four times?!

DUQ, That does sound like a good idea, doesn't it?

Game Master Rob Adams said...

"Hello Mr. John Doe have you voted for your (insert party here) candidate? Well did you know that (insert random fact about other politician that is mostly an ad-hominem attack designed to hit your emotions and not your logic) has done to America! You did not? Well I am sure we can count on your vote. Thank you Mr. John Doe."

AndrewPrice said...

ACG, That's what most of them are like. A few are nastier, a few are "Hi, I'm WashedupCelebrity and I love CandidateX. He supports everything I believe and nothing I don't. You should vote for him."

None of it is very convincing.

BevfromNYC said...

I got a robocall from former Mayor Ed Koch, old school Moynihan style Democrat. He started New York Uprising to require candidates to sign on to reform Albany. And he is doing this under the auspices of the New York Republican Party! He's furious with the craziness in Albany and from the Democrat Party. He was the first to acknowledge and openly criticize Obama for throwing Israel under the bus and has been fighting back ever since. He many even sway the Jews of New York who always vote Democrat to switch...that would be a Herculean accomplishment if ever there was one.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Strangely, Koch always had my respect, even as a full-on Democrat. I see him as a liberal who also happens to have a lot of common sense and doesn't subscribe to the nastiness that's taken over the Democrats.

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