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The Hard Sell: Yesterday two guys dressed like hipper Mormon missionaries somehow got into my apartment building (not that it's terribly difficult). They worked for Direct Energy and were wandering door-to-door pulling a low-grade social engineering scam where they let you think they worked for the electric company and they wanted to "adjust" your electric rate by signing you up with Direct Energy. Dealing with them was an unpleasant experience but it did make me realize that advertising in general is a kind of social engineering.

The day before Sumana got a telemarketing call. On her cell phone that's on the Do Not Call list. It was a Choose Your Own Adventure pitch from the Internet company (a preexisting business relationship trumps cell phones and DNC list) wanting to sell us a phone line. As in a phone you can't take out of your house. I believe to sweeten the deal they offered an original iMac and some commemorative Pogs. When Sumana said she wasn't interested, the Choose Your Own Adventure (which was being read by some poor human) became incredulous that we could live full lives if there wasn't a land line in our place of residence. After assuring the CYOA that our lives were fairly full, Sumana eventually reached one of those unsatisfying endings where she lived in a state of uncertainty as to what might have been, and hung up.

In both cases this was not the first time we'd been pitched but an escalation in tactics. We got a very weird spam-card from Direct Energy a while back, which was why I remembered the name on missionary #1's badge. And the Internet company sends us a paper bill every month mostly so they can bundle in pitches for a phone line (I pay the bill online, through the very Internet I pay for).

I wonder if this increased aggressiveness is an effect of the economic crunch, or, as I believe they used to say, "recession". Did this happen last time? Since coming back from London I've also noticed a little of a more common form of creeping advertising: advertising on surfaces that previously had none.

[Comments] (1) : Kevan gave me a book of Groucho Marx-related letters, called appropriately enough The Groucho Letters. I'd flipped through the book at Jake Berendes's house but now I'm reading it through, and I was intrigued by his 1957 description of a Mystery Science Theater-esque show he was writing and co-starring in:

The format is a simple one. Jane and I sit in front of a television set at home watching a television show. The show we watch is usually a sports reel, a travelogue, or a whatnot, and we make up funny jokes to say while looking at it...

It will be a new kind of writing for me. We have to write jokes to fit the footage of the film shots. Like I need a forty-foot joke to describe what the man is doing when he examines the sheep's wool in Australia, so I say to Jane: "See, they examine the wool to determine if it's ready for shearing." And she takes the rest of the 40 feet to tell the joke. Which in this case turns out to be: "Oh yeh--they want to make sure it's a hundred percent wool."

Hilarious, isn't it? And after writing 40-foot jokes, 75-foot jokes, and even 108-foot jokes, we have a nine and a half inch [Nielsen] rating, and all is well.

IMDB doesn't know about this television program and it's not clear who "Jane" is, though picking up context throughout the book indicates that it's Jane Ace, Goodman Ace's wife.


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