Robocalls…a Marketers Perspective

Despite all the discussion about robocalling (Robocall is a term for an automated phone call that uses both a computerized autodialer and a computer-delivered pre-recorded message.) here in Canada, it is a bit surprising that no one from the world of marketing has taken this on as robocalls is clearly a marketing activity. It may not be one that marketers are proud of, but outbound telemarketing using robocalling is a tactic used by many marketers including those who work in the telemarketing industry e.g fundraising for charities .

Robocalls are telemarketing at its worse. As Randall Denley’s points out in his article in the Ottawa Citizen ; People phoning you at dinner time to sell something you have no interest in buying are annoying enough, but at least one can have some sympathy for those trying to make a living by doing this unappealing work, and some people really do need their ducts cleaned. Annoying political phone messages are quite another thing. It’s difficult to believe that a recorded message could persuade a voter to support a particular politician. It’s much easier to believe that excessive phone calls could cost votes.”

The efficacy of the use of robocalls is questionable, even in the world of telemarketing; the companies that make good money providing this service think it is a terrific way to reach their customers. And they have lots of proof of its efficacy if you read their promotional material.

Candidates spend months knocking on doors and talking to voters. The ultimate goal is to build a database of their supporters.  And the robocalls are used to remind them to vote. If robocalls were limited to that, it wouldn’t be so bad. Instead, robocalls are used to remind those on the list of upcoming events, messages from the party and any other messages the campaign can afford to share.

Political marketers feel the value of the robocalls, lies in getting the candidate’s name out there. It’s amazing how naive people are when it comes to elections. Even if a candidate is lucky enough to receive some media attention, it’s not enough to do the job and the alternative is advertising, which is expensive and there is no guarantee people will see it. Lawn signs, inserts in mail boxes, all candidate meetings, door-to-door canvassing and many other activities and events comprise the marketing efforts of politicians. In recent years politicians are using social media tools and techniques and in some cases this has been very successful but most politicians and political workers are neophytes when it comes to the use of social media for marketing purposes.

When it comes to robocalls as a marketing tactic the conventional wisdom is that it is a relatively cheap way to deliver volume. It’s the same premise that leads to the endless repetition of certain ads on television.( beware the “wear-out factor).  However when politicians are marketing they have to be cognizant of the “annoyance factor”. Yes the reach –frequency rates are high at a low cost but if you are “pissing off” the people you are trying to influence how much sense does frequent robocalling make?

The other tactic that politicians use is negative advertising. It has become standard operating procedure for political parties to imply that their key opponent is the devil incarnate. Again, the justification is that “it works.” For example here in Ontario the progressive conservatives spent a fortune reminding voters of Dalton McGuinty’s various flaws. Did they win, actually they had a lead going into the election but at the end they lost their lead and ultimately lost the election …. one that most pundits thought they would win.

With all the robocalls and negative advertising, it’s no wonder that so many people choose not to vote every election (in some elections close to 50%) as voters have become very cynical of politics.

If you want to see the worst offenders, just look south to the USA … the inventors and perpetrators of negative advertising and robocalls. Why Canadians have adopted the American style of political campaigning is something we need to ask ourselves, as Canadians are very different then Americans and many detest these type of political tactics

It’s disturbing that some political parties may have used robocalls to distribute misleading information, but on their best day, robocalls may not be the best tactic for politicians to use.

 

About jimmintz

Managing Partner, CEPSM Jim Mintz is a veteran marketing professional with many years of experience as a practioner and academic. He is presently Managing Partner at CEPSM and Program Director of the “Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing” at Sprott School ... Specialty Areas: Social Marketing, Integrated Marketing Communications, Public Sector and Non Profit Marketing
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