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There's nothing wrong with toll-free 800 numbers. But why does every advertiser have to stick one on their highway billboards?

And how come there are more phone numbers on local radio than in Brad Pitt's datebook? Somebody must be saying, "Hey, I paid for that 800 number. I'm putting it everywhere."

Okay. Phone numbers in retail newspaper ads make sense. Folks have time to rip out the number or jot it down. But what's with all these phone numbers on outdoor boards? What are we supposed to do, driving down the Jersey Turnpike at 55-plus? Reach over, grab a screwdriver out of the glove compartment and carve the number on the back of a road map? Of course, most of the numbers are so small we'd have to pull over and back up to read them. Phone numbers on the radio are almost as bad.

What are you advertisers thinking? Do people walk around with pencils behind their ears?


Those numbers that spell words are easier to remember, but not much. If you don't believe me, try to think of two of them right now. See what I mean?

Radio, TV and outdoor boards have probably thrown 10 million 800 numbers at you in your lifetime. How many have you written down? About four, right?

I guess they hope you'll remember the number. Direct response experts say you'd need to show the number and repeat it about five times, starting at the beginning of a radio or TV spot, to give us listeners a chance of getting it. That means you'd have to build your entire message around the phone number.

Sheraton Hotels tried that approach with their tedious phone number radio jingle: "8-0-0, 3-2-5, 3-5-3-5." Yeah, I remember the number, but the ad never convinced me to call it.

Courtyard by Marriott and Motel 6 ads have done a better job persuading and charming me, so I always look up their number and call them when I want a room. It's not that hard. And that's precisely my point. Ads have a hard enough job convincing people to buy your brand or try your store in 60 or 30 seconds.


If you advertise, consider carefully whether the addition of a phone number is really going to help your business. If so, put it in your newspaper ads. But don't waste precious broadcast time or outdoor board space with a phone number that nobody is going to remember.

Once you've made your point, truly interested customers will find your phone number all by themselves. Come to think of it, isn't that what Yellow Pages ads are for?

Mr. Cornish is creative director, Elkman Advertising & Public Relations, Bala

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