Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In Washington, Even the Telemarketing is Different

Telemarketing is back. Despite our desperate efforts to drive a stake through it's heart with the Do Not Call list, there are always ways around it.

Over the last three months, for instance, I've gotten two different versions of the same phone "survey." It isn't a survey at all, of course. It purports to be a survey. "We're not selling anything," says the happy person on the other end. "We just need a few minutes of your time."

What they've done during that time is fascinating. It's marketing, wrapped up in the guise of market research. It's the corporate equivalent of "push-polling." Push-polling, for those of you who aren't attuned to such things, is a form of political "research" that involves the caller asking you questions like this:

Caller: On a scale of 1 to 100, how would you describe your perception of Candidate Smith's personal integrity, with 1 being Satan and 100 being Jesus?

You: Um...maybe 70?

Caller: Thanks! Now, if you were aware that Candidate Smith eats human flesh and compulsively sodomizes cute little baby bunnies, how would that influence your rating?

Obviously, Candidate Jones is payin' for that call.

What's fascinating about the push-poll calls I've gotten recently is that 1) they are efforts to influence people inside the Beltway and 2) they are blatantly funded by corporate interests. The calls begin the same way. They ask what you do for a living, and are fishing for folks who are influential. They want to know if you work or have ever worked for a political party, a political action committee, a law firm, a think-tank, the Pentagon, the IMF or World Bank, the administration, or the legislature.

As a lifelong Washingtonian, I can check two of those boxes. Yeah, I was an administrative flunky, but hey, that wasn't the question.

Then, they get into the pitch. The first call asked about perceptions of health care Walmart. I was then given a huge volume of detail about just how wonderful Walmart is at caring for it's workers. "And how would that change your opinion, sir?"

The second call, which came last night, followed the same format. It asked about my perceptions of foreign investments in the United States, and foreign purchases of American companies and assets. I was then pitched a line about a particular development conglomerate based in the United Arab Emirates, and their wonderful concern for local interests in the communities where they slurp up properties and businesses. Gosh. I wonder what folks in the U.A.E. are up to? Maybe...thinking about buying tons of undervalued American companies? And wondering what the "leadership" of the country might think about it? Hmmm.

It almost makes me wish they were trying to get me to switch phone service or extend my car warranty. Sigh. The joys of living inside the Beltway.