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Whose line is it anyway?

Whose line is it anyway?

I received a phone call from a cellular company congratulating me because I would receive a cell phone. Another cell phone? Surely, the caller would notice that I already had a cell phone seeing that she dialled my number to speak to me. Intrigued I wanted to see what this particular company was going to offer.

I told her I was interested and wanted to know how to claim my prize. The telesales person warms to my enthusiasm. Let us face facts here. Telemarketing and cold calling is a thankless job.

She tells me that the company she is representing would deliver it to me. If I were not the jaded person I was, I would be delighted with this. What a terrific company. Free phone and delivery. And all it took was one lucky cell phone number.

Sound familiar?

There is a huge problem with this call. It is misleading. I know that there is no free lunch and that I will be paying for this lunch somewhere down the line. But the lunch may turn out to be more expensive than I imagined. And it often has something to do with the contract that I will be expected to sign at the end of it.

The telesales person did not specifically mention the word ‘free’ or that the delivery was free, but her sales pitch was constructed in such a way that I was led to believe that the product was for free.

The call happened a few years ago despite the fact that the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) had been launched. The CPA has been in force for five years and I still receive calls similar to this one.

The telephone is a painful marketing tool

Companies need to promote their products. The point of marketing is to inform the consumer about products available to them. Marketing budgets do not come with a blank cheque and marketers have to find cost-effective ways to reach and to expand their target market.

The telephone is a useful but very intrusive tool. Often these calls are made during suicide hour. You know, that time when kids are miserable, mom and dad have arrived home from work and the geyser has burst once again.

Cold calling is a difficult way to promote a product. It is much easier for a person to put the phone down and the reason why marketers use the ‘giveaway’ option. This is the hook to keep the person on the phone and to maintain their attention which will eventually lead to the sale. But this is also known as ambush or bait marketing and it contravenes section 30 and 40 of the CPA.

Plain language and understanding

South Africa is a diverse country with literacy problems. Consumers who do not have the language capacity or adequate educational background to understand the conditions there could be serious repercussions for accepting this ‘free’ gift. Before they know it, they have signed a contract which they may think they understand but then discover that they cannot afford the ‘terms and conditions’.

If the consumer happens to be on the breadline then this contract could make a difference between putting food on the table and trying to avoid legal action because they are unable to meet their monthly payments.

Don’t eat your ummm … words

It is for this reason that the CPA and plain language has been introduced. It is to bring back the ethics into marketing.

It is no longer possible for companies to hide behind clever words to sell products. The person on the other end of the line needs to understand what they are buying. This means that communication should be effective and in plain language. When a company offers something for free then it must be free. The consumer must be aware of any conditions attached.

If corporate communications do not conform to this legislation then companies may find that the marketing budget may extend to defending themselves in the commissioner’s office.

This could be destructive for company reputation and ultimately sales. It is important that companies ensure that all communicators are familiar with the language used in the company and that it is communicated transparently. In other words, there should be no ambiguity to get that sale at all costs.

If plain Language is a problem in your corporate communication or you are unsure that your documents comply with the Consumer Protection Act then Writer’s Support can provide guidance.

Contact: or 0711 636 8026