The Bells Are Ringing

American salesmen this month are blitzing television viewers with offers for everything from fish scalers to phonograph records. To order a product the buyer dials a toll-free 800 number on the screen. The offers come thickest in the slow after-Christmas period, when television advertising time is cheaper and consumers are too pooped to return to stores. The marketers ring up 40% of their annual sales in January.

Most commercials are similar. They usually last two minutes, which gives viewers time to memorize the telephone number that is repeated two or three times. Firmness...

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