Writer’s Workshop: Friendly Bob

Back in the Sixties, one of the sponsors of White Sox games on the radio was General Finance, and listeners were urged to call “Friendly Bob Adams at Andover 3-2020.” Of course, when you called the number you would reach someone who would tell you that Bob wasn’t in the office, but maybe they could help you. The fact was, “Friendly Bob Adams” didn’t exist. He was a fictitious character that existed solely for the purpose of getting people to call. Their trademark was the outline of a man’s head with a big smile and a telephone receiver pressed up to his ear. One of my aunts worked for General Finance and had a Zippo lighter with “Friendly Bob’s” picture on it.

Back in the day, companies would do that, give you a name to call. The company I worked for for years had one such person whose name was Robert Carpenter. His name was in all the ads for our software. The switchboard operators in Atlanta knew, when a call came in for him, to transfer it to “Robert’s” administrative person. She would tell them that Robert wasn’t in, but he’d be sure to have someone call back. She’d then call whatever region the caller was from and tell the regional sales manager, who would then assign a salesperson to call the prospect back.

Robert also worked in the regional offices in Accounts Receivable. If a client was behind in paying their bill, they’d get a nastygram in the mail from Robert telling them to pay up or to call him. The same charade would happen there: when the client called asking for Robert, they’d be passed on to the AR person who would then deal with them. We had a very nice woman at our office who did this. She told the story once about the client who kept telling her he had already spoken to Robert about it. I realize it’s kind of sexist to say this, but it’s true: if they had gotten a letter from our AR person, they might not even call, but Robert Carpenter? That name meant business.

I think they should have given the AR Robert a different name, like Vito Matesi. The name makes it sound like you’ll get your thumbs broken if you don’t pay up. Not very friendly, but effective.

10 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Friendly Bob

  1. Answering machine message from the 1990s –

    “Hello, you’ve reached Mark’s place. Me and the boys are out back testing some new rubber hoses, but leave your name and number and I’ll call you right back.” Beep!


  2. I remember “Friendly Bob Adams” very well. When I got out of the army in 1956 it took me awhile to get a job. When I finally got one I had to wear a suit and tie and I only one suit. I went to a clothing store downtown and couldn’t get credit. I called Friendly Bob and was told that Bob wasn’t in. Long story short, I went over to their office, got a loan, paid it back, and have good memories of Friendly Bob Adams. The loan person actually told me when I went over there that Bob Adams didn’t exist. God, they were on the radio for years! You were born in 1956 if I remember correctly.


    1. Sure was. My birthday was the day before Mom’s. They must have spent a fortune on ads during Sox games in the Sixties. Hardly a half-inning went by without hearing about Friendly Bob Adams. Ditto the pre- and post-game shows. Gage Chrysler-Plymouth was another big advertiser.


  3. I am not at all surprised that this was how it used to be done and the collection activity makes me laugh. I deal with collection agencies every day


    1. A lot of business practices have changed since “the good old days.” Now, instead of giving people a fake name in a letter, you can give them a fake name in an email.


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