Unnumbered terabytes have been squandered recently as the increased volume of data-driven marketing initiatives have taken digital marketing to the top spot in the media universe. There, it’s likely to be king of the mountain until the next fashionable tsunami comes along. Enter, batch-and-blast email marketers and robocallers.
Consumers who formerly complained about getting too much mail are increasingly (and rightly) up in arms about the intrusiveness of unsolicited emails, ads jumping onto their Internet pages — visually blocking desired content, just when they want to see it — location-driven cell phone promotions advising them of the goodies inside the retail shop they are passing (remember them) or receiving endless robocalls.
Anything is possible! In today’s world of almost endless permutations and combinations of digital sales messages, what faster than a speeding bullet Superthing can stop them before they plunge irretrievably into some black hole, never to be seen again?
Would you believe that the answer is neither a superman nor woman? No: It’s not even a humanoid. It is quite simply that elusive substance that is said to make the world go ’round: money.
The useful website AlterNet recently carried what could be the game-changing story for our industry. Why stop with the industry? It could be a game-changer for our society and sanity. Consumers may not complain as much about emails and push ads as they do about robocalls, but you can bet they get nearly as angry about their privacy being invaded. Wrote Matthew Chapman:
Americans are being bombarded with robocalls. It’s an epidemic, and it’s getting worse. By a recent estimate, 71 million of these scam calls are being placed per hour, [my highlighting] often completely illegally.
Robocalls make up the top source of complaints to both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC); both of which, in theory, have power to police robocalls. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to get rid of them.
Almost; but not impossible. As Shakespeare wrote:
“If money go before, all ways do lie open.” —Ford, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Act 2, Scene 2
Chapman reported that Roger Meiners, a professor of law and economics at the University of Texas at Arlington, has a brilliant proposal for how to defeat robocallers, once and for all. It has exquisite simplicity and can, by extension, apply to almost all of our batch-and-blast outrages. Professor Mainers’ proposal, which deserves nothing less than a Nobel economics nomination:
Levy a 1-cent tax on every outgoing phone call.
If codified into the law of the land, it would be collected automatically and digitally. Individuals and small businesses would hardly notice it. We’d all pay the tax but even for a heavy individual user who made 50 calls per day; his tab would be only $15.00 per month.
In the Wall Street Journal, Meiners explained how it would work:
Most taxes aren’t popular, but this one will be. Call it the Penny for Sanity Tax: a 1-cent tax on every call made. Fifty billion robocalls would cost $500 million — a powerful incentive to stop.
Because the tax would apply to all calls, it would avoid litigation about what can be legally disfavored. It would be impossible to evade by sneaking around classifications of calls. And it would not necessitate hiring more bureaucrats to enforce a complicated rule.
What a huge effect it would have if put into practice. The amount could be easily raised if it didn’t act as a sufficient inhibitor of batch-and-blast. The whole idea might also inform an app where the consumer could choose to get paid to look at ads. As the Bar proclaimed “ … all ways do lie open,” if there is coin to pay the piper. And imagine how even a little of this money might be used for the environment, the public good or worthy charities.
Now let’s stretch and imagine the application of the Meiners’ formula to email. The Radicati Group estimates the worldwide number of consumer and business emails sent per day in 2018 at more than 281 billion. If these were taxed at 1 cent each, (same as the calls, but harder to collect), the cost would be $2.8 billion per day. You get the idea.
Where technologies have run well ahead of the business models they support, not a lot of thought has been given to the actual costs of emails and robocalls. “Let’s mail another million. It isn’t costing anything. And then we can go to lunch” has an all-too-familiar ring to it, even if it happens to be more apocryphal than true. There is, as the saying goes, no such thing as a free email or robocall or lunch.
Because very few marketers have done the math to determine the real comparative bottom-line effect of over-promoting or looked at the medium- and long-term commercial and societal damage it causes, they might as well go off and enjoy lunch. Their C-Suite days are numbered.
Soon, they are likely to be replaced by a tribe of literate data nerds, a species currently in short supply. Their recruitment is driving up costs like international soccer stars. They are just what giant consulting firms, such as Accenture, need to support their acquisition of “creative” shops with funny names and casual dress and time-keeping habits certain to annoy the hell out of the senior partners, who are mostly former three-piece, dark-suited accountants who daily commute from the suburbs and arrive at the office with Swiss punctuality.
Imagine the culture clash. And imagine how in this radically changed game, our vision of response rates and costs — in fact, almost everything in our marketing sphere — would change for the better.
Best of all, when the telephone rings, we wouldn’t have to worry we were about to be propositioned or otherwise engaged in a time-wasting conversation with a robot.