Mumbai calling

As regular readers will know, I hate advertising. Even a trip down to the front door can ruin my day, as yet another pile of unwanted takeaway ads litter the hallway; flyposters make me gibber; and my web browser is stuffed with every conceivable anti-ad plugin, programs with names such as “supernukeadspopupbuster” and so on.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate *all* advertising – I accept it’s the price I have to pay for watching commercial TV channels, or reading the Metro; as a journalist I’m vividly aware that without advertising I wouldn’t have a job; I’m experimenting with Google ads for a forthcoming feature – but I utterly loathe any form of marketing that’s intrusive. So for example I don’t mind little old ladies shaking collecting cans outside supermarkets, but I want to punch the gangs of charity collectors wielding direct debit forms when I’m in a hurry to get somewhere; I don’t mind magazine ads but I hate advertising features that ape the look and language of the real articles; I’m fine with ads on web pages but not the ads that float on top of pages and blast me with sound when I’m on the telephone, and so on.

My real pet hate, though, is unsolicited marketing: junk mail, junk SMS messages (which, thankfully, seem to have stopped again) and even worse, telesales. As a result I’m on every conceivable “don’t call” list, and I get very grumpy when I get marketing calls from firms who are flouting the don’t-call rules and simply calling everybody up from the phone book. I do feel sorry for the people who are calling – in most cases, they’re not particularly well paid and it’s a thankless job – but while I appreciate that people have got to make a living, I don’t see why that living should involve interrupting me when I’m trying to work, or take a nap, or make the dinner.

It’s not just the interruption that bugs me, either. It’s the assumption that I’m too stupid to know about products or services without some seventeen-year-old calling me up to tell me about them. Selling credit cards? Yeah, I know about credit cards. In the last six months I’ve written about 200 articles about them. Similarly pension plans, life insurance, health insurance, banking services. I’ve written endless comparisons of different broadband services, of telephone offers, of mobile phone deals. I know about these things. I don’t need telephone sales calls to tell me about them, and there’s no way in Hell they’ll affect my buying decisions other than making me want to boycott the firm and attack its head office with Molotov cocktails.

There’s a point to this, honest.

Despite being on every possible “piss off and leave me alone” list, over the last few months I’ve started to get sales calls again. They come in two forms: the first is from a human being, and the second is from a machine.

The first type of call is for life insurance or pensions, usually from US firms, and the call is invariably from India – a call centre in Bangalore, perhaps, or Mumbai. The man or woman making the call is lovely, but I have absolutely no interest in what they’re trying to sell me; however, because the call isn’t from the UK, I can’t do my usual rant about the don’t-call list and the various fines the company can incur.

The second type of call is automated, and tends to happen every two days or so. The phone rings, I let the answering machine get it, and a recorded voice urges me to call a premium rate number to get my free cruise, or kitchen, or ridiculously large sum of money, or whatever. You can’t interact with these calls – no matter how creative your swearing abilities – and more annoyingly, you can’t hang up; occasionally the sales message will finish but the call won’t disconnect properly, meaning you can’t dial out. Which could be a bit of a problem if you’ve set the house on fire and need to call 999.

What both of these marketing techniques have in common is that you can’t prevent them – in the first case, because the firm is outside the UK; in the second, because it’s a recording – and that they’re only possible thanks to technology. Communications technology means it’s now cost-effective to do outbound telesales from call centres in Mumbai; communications and computer technology means it’s now simple to record an MP3 and make a computer auto-dial number after number after number. Unfortunately, computer and communications technology isn’t advanced enough for me to send a huge electric shock to the testicles of each company’s chief executive.

As far as I can tell, there’s nothing I can do about either kind of call – perhaps complain to the telecoms watchdog in the case of the recorded messages, but I very much doubt that such a complaint would have any effect. Has anyone out there found an effective way to stop these calls from happening that doesn’t involve rounding up a posse of vigilantes and delivering wedgies to corporate executives?