Tuesday, September 01, 2009

1 SEP 09: Get Real or Get Lost

History came calling Monday afternoon, and I missed it. Well, I didn't miss it completely -- because I always keep my answering machine on. You never know when an important tip to the blog will come. Even if it's only why I need grandparents' life insurance....

The call on my answering machine invited me to take a short survey over the phone, to be rewarded with "two complimentary boarding passes" for a cruise. The message even had Caribbean music playing in the background - which almost made me wish I could forward the call to Michael Registe.

The cruise offer was a recording - and that's what made it so historic. As of today, most computer-dialed recorded phone calls are supposed to stop. So if you get a "robo-call," contact the Federal Trade Commission - which I guess is now the national robo-cop.

All kinds of robo-calls have come my way in recent years. And yes, I'm to blame -- since I chose NOT to put my name on the "Do Not Call" list. Call it an unusual way of making sure my telephone works, and someone actually cares about me.

The robo-calls have ranged from satellite television deals to burial plans. And even though I pressed "2" or "9" to be taken off the computer lists, the same offers kept on coming. I answered so many calls for cruises, I could have applied to work as a third-deck lounge singer.

The new federal rules actually allow you to keep receiving robo-calls, if you wish. You have to give companies written permission -- but really now, how many people are going to do that? I mean, besides the voice talent companies which make money from these offers?

Before you ask me - no, I do NOT really think the telemarketing calls will go away with today's new federal rules. I'm guessing the companies with great offers will go back to an old-fashioned approach. You know, real people calling you - only from places such as Bangladesh and Costa Rica.

We should note there are exceptions to the new restrictions on robo-calls. You can still get recorded calls from....

+ Politicians. Muscogee County School Superintendent Susan Andrews will have the phone lines all to herself for two weeks.

+ Agencies offering emergency information. I received a test call a couple of weeks ago from the Columbus city "reverse 911" system - and it didn't even ask me to dial 119.

+ Organizations with "certain health care messages." So please, do NOT report President Obama to the FTC.

So why did I miss Monday's historic call offering a cruise? Because I was trying to win $5,000, through a different sort of mass advertising. I received a flyer from JayMaxx with a mystery scratch-off number. I had a small chance of being a big winner -- and for a consolation prize, I needed to buy milk at Publix down the street.

The goal of the giveaway obviously is to sell cars -- and JayMaxx apparently is taking over this promotional idea from the departed Bill Heard Chevrolet. But Monday's trip was different, as the salesperson did NOT try to persuade me into a car for a test drive. Telling him you're unemployed may be the secret way around that....

Only one flyer in thousands had the number for $5,000. Of course, mine did not - and I wound up with a phone number or web site to contact, for a free hotel weekend in my choice of "spectacular destinations." Columbus is NOT on the list. In fact, no place in Georgia or Alabama is. Someday the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail will learn television ads alone are not enough.

But as usual with these offers, the fine print gets in the way of the trip. I have to pay a "50 dollar refundable activation fee" within 30 days. Hotel stays which begin on Friday or Saturday are NOT free, and cost more. And there's also a fee for making a reservation with less than 60 days' notice - so an impulse to visit Destin had better bounce off your wallet first.

While we're pondering absurd ads, let's wrap up the one-month consumer survey we mentioned here last week. A late surge made our final count FOUR credit card offers in the mail -- down from five in November 2007. See how financially cautious our country has become?

The last three credit card offers to reach our mailbox were for business cards, and we didn't apply for any of them. Our idea of a "business lunch" these days is a big bag of chips from the convenience store.

So with little else to show from Monday except some milk and diet cola, let's check what the news offered:

+ Today's scheduled auction of the Rob Doll Nissan property on Whitesville Road was called off. While negotiations continue, three subcontractors claimed they haven't been paid for work on the planned new dealership. You'd think these workers would have heard of Doll's 48-month financing plan.

+ The Columbus Police Chief joined the Muscogee County Sheriff and Marshal at the Men's Wearhouse store at Columbus Park Crossing, to start a suit collection drive for needy people. If they're involved in a "plain-clothes" operation like this, are we in for more undercover law enforcement?

+ The Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum opened at the Trade Center, with a speech by retired General Colin Powell. Powell explained he had to learn to listen, when he became Secretary of State. Critics of the Bush administration still say he listened too much, and questioned too little.

+ The Montgomery Advertiser reported the demise of Colonial Bank has cost longtime executive Bobby Lowder more than $150 million in stock value. So please do NOT be shocked if Lowder walks up to your tailgate outside Auburn football games, and asks for an extra burger.

+ The Opelika Parks and Recreation Department opened a new Sportsplex. More than 20 people were waiting at 5:00 a.m. CT for the doors to open -- which should prove once and for all that jogging can be addictive.

+ WTVM's Derek Kinkade announced through Facebook he now has an "AMS" seal from the American Meteorological Society. Apparently he answered every "Ask Derek" question correctly, to overcome those embarrassing challenges.

+ Instant Message to Davis Broadcasting: I appreciate your interest in helping our soldiers overseas. But really now - who decided to name your collection drive "Operation Big Package?" Do you know how many Fort Benning privates are giggling behind your back about that name?

The number of unique visitors to our blog in the first half of 2009 was up 11.1 percent! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, make a PayPal donation or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

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