Advertisements have a funny way of finding people no matter where they are these days -- in a movie theater, sitting in traffic or waiting on hold on a telephone.
Now Bell Atlantic Corp., parent of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., has acquired the patent to some software that would allow the company to sandwich advertisements between -- get this -- telephone rings.
The software, the creation of a Kansas City entrepreneur, would allow Bell Atlantic to force-feed advertisements to the ultimate in captive audiences -- people making phone calls.
At least that's what the software could do if Bell Atlantic wanted. But Bell Atlantic says it doesn't intend to use the software that way, so air-time in between rings is going to stay ad-free.
"It was never our intention to use the software that way," Jay Grossman, a Bell Atlantic spokesman, said Thursday.
That may be because that plan has already been tried elsewhere -- and it failed miserably.
A Kansas City bank tried advertising in between rings. But halfway into a trial run, the bank jerked the software because people were complaining so much, Mr. Grossman said.
After Philadelphia-based Bell Atlantic bought the rights to the software last year, some news organizations reported that the "Baby Bell" planned to try the same gambit.
Those same stories keep popping up, making Bell Atlantic more than just a little bit touchy about the subject.
"It's the story that won't die," sighed Mr. Grossman, denying once more that Bell Atlantic has an ulterior motive up its sleeve. "I keep telling people this, and I'll say it again -- Bell Atlantic has no plans to run ads in between rings."
But Bell Atlantic does intend to use the software to enhance an experimental service known as "Send-a-Call." The service, now in the trial stage, allows people making calls from pay phones to leave voice-mail messages for people whose lines are busy or who aren't home. For an extra 25 cents, the network keeps trying a busy or no-answer number until it gets through to deliver the voice-mail message.
According to Mr. Grossman, Bell Atlantic recently modified the original software to allow the company to more easily deploy the service across its network.
The modified software will also make call set-up and handling smoother, he said.
But what it won't do is assault callers with advertisements in between rings, he said.
"We never had any intention of doing anything like that," Mr. Grossman repeated. "Never did, never will."