VIEWPOINT;LETTERS TO THE EDITOR;FIXING UP AD REVIEW;CALL 888-SOLUTION

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Even though Bob Garfield's recent review panned one of my favorite campaigns ("True Value fails to nail down benefit," AA, April 8), I have to confess it made me laugh...but we need to provide some additional information.

On the issue of empowerment and do-it-yourself actualization (a term I love so much I plan to steal it), we believe the message is profoundly relevant to the home improvement category, including the hardware store.

The once male-dominated category is evolving rapidly to include singles and women...In fact, women account for 49.6% of purchases in hardware stores, according to the National Retail Hardware Association, and they direct 44% of all do-it-yourself home improvement projects.

Now, on the subject of serving the True Value retailer...Owning the benefit of helpfulness serves True Value owners in two ways. One, there are more True Value stores in the U.S. than any other home improvement outlet. If we generically drive customers into home improvement stores, we will clearly drive many of them to True Value. Two, service is our differentiating benefit...Compelling someone into the True Value to buy a 2 cent hex nut is not in the best interest of True Value store owners. Getting customers into the store to seek the advice and merchandise necessary to complete do-it-yourself home-improvement projects serves our retailers well.

Bottom line, we want people to think of True Value as the place to go for all hardware needs, because that's what we're all about.

Chuck Kremers

VP-marketing, Cotter & Co.

Chicago

Recent media coverage on the 888 vanity numbers auction proposed in the 1997 federal budget has glossed over the very heart of the matter, and it's time to dispel some of the myths.

Well over half of the 375,000 numbers set aside by American businesses are not vanity numbers-they are just good numbers with little or no inherent value. Of those that are vanity numbers, the media consistently presents 888-Flowers or 888-Mattress as representative samples, but these seemingly generic ones are precious few in number.

Most vanity numbers in the pool are highly proprietary. Numbers like 88-Call-IBM and 888-CitiBank are far more typical and it should be clear to everyone that an auction of these would be unconscionable, yet that's the plan.

In addition, numbers were set aside under the premise that a competitive bidding process might be employed if right of first refusal "is allowed," according to the FCC Notice of Proposed Rule Making 95-155. Presumably, then, IBM, CitiBank and others would stand aside while the government auctions off their properties, then buy them back at the high bid. If all this sounds familiar, it should; it's called extortion.

I confidently use the phrase "their properties" because the only reason these numbers have any value at all is because IBM, CitiBank and others created it. The phone companies only issue plain numeric codes; look at your bill. Vanity numbers, the messages overlaid on the numeric codes, are exclusively created by subscribers. If you're still in denial, recognize that all other vanity 888 numbers are free for the asking, including the newly created StarTAC, Keg-Beer, and, even Wall-Street.

Since airwave rights have raised a fortune, it is understandable that some would try to extend the concept to vanity numbers. However, while frequencies may be transparent to the end user, vanity numbers are not. Inherently, 888 numbers will always be confused with their 800 counterparts. They're just too much alike.

A better solution would be for the government to do for toll-free what the private sector did for numeric codes-create vanity exchanges. Toll-free exchanges like FAX, SKY, CAR, USA, WEB, NET, FOR, GET and others could be created and auctioned off without affecting anyone! It should be clear that USA-Mattress or GET-Flowers could hardly be confused or contested by established services like 800-Mattress and 800-Flowers.

With the American imagination, millions of unique, powerful vanity numbers could be crafted on these platforms-like USA-Get-Real-and millions of honest dollars raised in the process.

Loren C. Stocker

Managing partner

Vanity International

Chicago

Corrections

In "Move over Melrose, Polaroid Place has hit the Fox site" (April 15, P. 37), the "Polaroid Place" online serial story will run for six weeks at the Fox Broadcasting Co. site.

In "Fortune names third publisher in three years" (April 8, P. 4), the name of the magazine's former promotions director should have been David Nimz.

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