By Matt Smith

I know this column is supposed to be about all the good work that’s being created in our area and about how this is a great, smart region in which to conduct business.  And it is all those things.  But something happened to me recently that was not so good, and I feel compelled to discuss it.  The reason it’s relevant to this column is because it is related to marketing.  The reason it’s important to all of us is because it is related to privacy.

The other day I got a phone call at 4am. Yes, I leave my cell phone on overnight because many times I’m away from my family and my kids live in different time zones. So when the phone rings at 4am I expect the worst.  But this was almost worse than a bad family call. It was a Robo call.  That’s right.  A goddamn Robo call, in the middle of the night, when I was sound asleep, and suddenly awakened by a ringing phone that in my imagination frighteningly portended family mishap or even disaster.

So here’s my point.  Isn’t there something we can do as a community of marketers and agencies—the very people who are responsible for this blight on the planet—to stop this madness?  I simply cannot see the real marketing value of these calls. In fact, I would bet the farm (if I had one) that Robo calls actually devalue a marketer’s message and brand. I can tell you from my 4am experience that I absolutely HATED the woman on the other end of the phone, and if I could remember what the hell she was selling I would never buy it.

As a society we have somehow become resolved to the annoying insanity of Robo calls, and I believe it’s time to at least explore this phenomena and determine whether there is any action that can be taken to eradicate them.  So, I am using this platform to volunteer my agency’s time and resources to help initiate a concerted effort to wipe out Robo calls, spam, and other forms of so-called “telemarketing”  Why?  Because it’s NOT marketing—its harassment.

And that’s where the privacy issue that I mentioned earlier comes into play. And this is important because I’ve come to believe it’s at the core of not just Robo calls, but also the center of the overall trend of data collection and interpretation that has overtaken the marketing industry.

In investigating the Robo call issue, I was told by an expert that the motivation behind such calls and other forms of spam is all part of phishing.  And the benefit to the perpetrators is that even the smallest part of info (read data) can be harvested and used. A little here, a little there, and soon marketers are able to compile a profile of who you are, where you live, what you like, what you buy and other tidbits that help them target you even more accurately than you can imagine.

I’m aware that all of this is not new.  I’m also aware that marketers, like everyone else, have First Amendment rights that protect freedom of speech.  But even free speech has some degree of limitations (yelling fire in a theater when there is no fire).

We are ensconced in a data-gathering age, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.  But no matter how you cut it, it’s an affront to privacy, and that’s disconcerting.  We simply have to find a way to allow marketers to sell their wares while still respecting the privacy of consumers.  If you have any ideas, let me know.  Let’s stop talking about this and find out of there’s something we can do to fix it.

Matt Smith is founder of SmithGifford, and has close to 40 years’ experience as a creative and agency leader at the nation’s top agencies.  SmithGifford is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

You can find Matt Smith’s earlier columns at Oh, That’s Good.


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