Victimization in the Guise of Marketing

Door to door marketing that uses tactics to thwart full disclosure of information is nothing short of predatory.

Direct marketing companies laud themselves as an innovative form of marketing that cuts out the middleman. People who work for the marketing companies go door to door, directly to the customer, instead of creating ‘secondary marketing’ in the form of advertisements, billboards etc.

Door to door sales may be irritating, but otherwise they’re pretty innocuous in and of themselves. Here’s the catch: the people who work for the marketing companies are literally told not to tell the customer too much. Suspicious?

People who work for the companies are trained to wrangle customers while sidestepping questions. In training, vague words and phrases are scrawled across boards and reiterated as the commandments to enticing agreement out of customers for the marketed service.

If a customer asks what exactly the service is, the tactic is to avoid a direct answer by saying the category of the service in general. What company? Half answer by saying you’re a subset of the current company. Not illegal, because it’s not exactly a lie, but neither is it completely truthful.

For example: These marketing companies represent many companies, one of which may be an energy company. In many states, energy has been de-regulated, which means people have the freedom to choose who they want as a supplier for their distributor to use. In New York, ConEdison is the major energy distributor. They will automatically choose a supplier if people don’t choose one themselves. The going rate for the automatically chosen supplier is 20.8 cents per hour for electricity.

There are many other suppliers who offer cheaper rates for electricity. It is the consumer’s choice who to use. Most people, however, are unaware of this, and that lack of awareness is what the direct marketing companies prey on.

The people who work for the marketing companies are taught to smile and make small talk to construct a façade of trust. They say that it’s a matter of urgency to address the unattended notice on the energy bill, then they tell the customer to get their bill so they can personally help them fix the problem.

All the language is tailored to make people feel as though there is a problem, that it needs fixing, and that the person at the door is there to save the day.

There’s not a problem.
Nothing needs to be fixed.
The person at the door is there to sell a product.

Once the customer hands over their utility bill, the representative confidently scrawls numbers across the sheet while explaining that there is an urgent problem: the rates are too high and they need to be lower.

There’s not a problem.
Nothing needs to be fixed.
The person at the door is there to sell a product.

The representative then asks for the customer’s phone number and tells them they’ll fix the matter then and there, again positioning themselves as the savior. Forms are filled out, two phone calls are made, and the customer is switched to a new supplier.

On the one hand, the supplier that the person switched to may in fact be cheaper, and the person may save money. Then again, full disclosure about the service is shunned. In training, representatives are told that if the customer asks too many questions, the rep has said too much and they should leave.

In addition, the areas that the representatives are sent to seem to be predominantly low-income areas, where people may not have the consumer savvy to realize when their questions are not answered directly, and may not have the knowledge to know which questions to ask.

If the service being sold were in fact the best option for consumers, why not answer questions? Why not tell the customer everything about the product? Why the lack of transparency unless there is something to hide?

Don’t fault the reps too much. They’re paid on commission and many are young people simply trying to make an income. They are paid little and work almost 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. They’re prey to the company almost as much as the customer.

No amount of money should be worth taking advantage of people, but many of the representatives don’t see the scheme for what it is and truly believe they’re offering something beneficial. At least, they tell themselves that as long as they stand in front of doors, smiles plastered on their faces, pens poised, and wallets empty.


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