Published in Target Marketing, October 1999 issue, Page 16 Response to "Instant branding" by Denny Hatch, 08/01/1999, Target Marketing, Page 102 by Judith Oppenheimer, President, ICB Toll Free Consultancy

A former reader of Who's Mailing What, I've admired and respected the work of Denny Hatch for many years, but to my great surprise, he misses the boat on the subject of 800 vanity numbers and 800 versus 888, as well as domain names as trademarks, in the above reference article.

Mr. Hatch prefaces a brief and rather glib attack on toll free number brokers with the has-been implication, "Back in the days of vanity 800 numbers ..." ?!

According to a September 1998 study, 91% of television commercials that use a toll free number use the 800 prefix, 57% of which are vanity numbers. 79% of 15 second commercials with toll free numbers use vanity numbers, as do 75% of 30 second commercials.

A January, 1999 study reveals that vanity phone numbers dramatically increase advertising response rates, finding that radio ads with a vanity 800 number drew fourteen times more calls than those with a numeric 800 number.

These are not the statistics of a "has-been" marketing tool ...

As for another comment, "I knew a guy who bought 1- 800 -BERMUDA ... I think the addition of the toll - free 888 area code destroyed his investment" ...

I can tell you as one who follows both industries, that as goes the newer .com versus .net, so goes the more entrenched brand 800 versus 888 ...

On a practical level, the 888 number is almost always part of the package along with applicable domain names when 800 numbers are purchased from one marketer by another, for obvious brand protection purposes. (In cases where the seller doesn't have the matching 888, they often procure it in order to cement the sale.)

Of more substantial note, though, is the brand value of 800 over 888.

Even as the public gains meager intellectual awareness of 888 and 877 as toll free*, only 800 vanity numbers trigger an elevated response, and a pronounced buying behavior.

A few years back ICB researched 800 vanity number use in the marketplace, specifically within mainstream companies with existing advertising experience and track record (versus vanity-specific companies like 800 FLOWERS.)

Results: A tv campaign test of 1 800 PRODIGY versus their numeric 800 number, pulled a full 25% greater response, over a 24 hour longer period of time, every time the commercials aired. Prodigy also attributed significantly increased customer retention (in a churn-sensitive business), and measurably increased customer satisfaction ratings, to the use of the 1 800 PRODIGY vanity number.

Jeep Eagle shared similarly enthusiastic results based on its 1 800 JEEP EAGLE commercial experience. Historically gun-shy about incurring 1-800 costs on a mass television scale, it took the tv plunge advertising 1 800 JEEP EAGLE on the Super Bowl. Response rates exceeded expectations, with the company discovering an elevated caliber of respondent, people both more inclined, and more financially qualified, to buy. (Conversion follow-up confirmed this: within twelve months of the first call to 1 800 JEEP EAGLE, 50% of callers bought either a Jeep Eagle, or a comparable brand.)

ICB heard similar stories from Bally's Health and Fitness, as well as other marketers. Callers to Bally's vanity numbers (1 800 WORKOUT and 1 800 FITNESS) "were raising their hands, asking to buy", according to one call center manager.

We know that 800 numbers trigger response, identifying prospects a varying levels of qualification.

But "good" 800 vanity numbers -- brand names, recognized vernacular, and calls to action -- trigger an elevated response over numerics, as well as a pronounced buying behavior. According to the mainstream marketers we spoke with, 800 vanity numbers attract more callers, who are more qualified by both desire, and ability, to buy.

Wearing my publisher-and-'800 scholar' hat, I attribute this phenomenon to the inherent power of language. Of course as an industry advisor, I endorse what works best.

Finally, this articles begins with "Internet domain name registration system creates de facto trademarks."

It ain't necessarily so. Overturning a U.S. district court decision, Avery Dennison Corp. v. Sumpton, 98-55810, Judge Stephen Trott of Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, recently found that "registration of ... [domain] names [does] not constitute commercial use under the Federal Trademark Dilution Act of 1995."