Got Your Number

June 5, 2008

When I was living in the UK they deregulated their equivalent of 018 directory services. Previously this was a monopoly run by BT. But, under the new model, there were a number of new companies started which each offered competing services, with a bunch of different business models. All of them had a short number that started with 118.

I wonder how many of these still survive today?

One of the “best” was 118-118. They had a fun and clever marketing campaign with two characters who looked like 70s middle distance runners (depending on who you believe they were “inspired” by either David Beford or Steve Prefontaine).

Here is one of the early ads:

And a more recent one, which is a piss-take of this great Honda ad (an ad must be great when it has its own Wikipedia page, no?):

Their “Got Your Number” tag line definitely got stuck in my head, although I never used the service, so you could probably argue about whether all of this was actually successful or not.

Anyway, I suppose the lesson is there is always potential to do something interesting, even with a seemingly dry and personality-less business as directory services.

Here are two other interesting angles on the same business which I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks…

First, this comment from Charles on my “Using large data sets” post:

I reckon one of the most interesting data sets Google are compiling is based on the free IVR directory service they’ve built for the US (Goog411).

They’re compiling a huge set of voice samples which must be a powerful way to train their speech recognition…which in turn could power the next generation of contextual advertising. Adsense for video is kinda hit and miss at the moment, but imagine if was as good as the targeting for regular site ads.

That’s very cool if it’s true!

Then, this post from Josh Kopleman about 1-800-FREE-411 (a free directory service in the US) who have been polling their customers about political preferences. I’m not sure exactly how this works, but I’m assuming something like: free directory service, just tell us whether you prefer Hillary or Obama? Either way, as a result they have a poll with a much larger sample size than is typical.

As Josh says “It’s always neat to see new technologies used in unanticipated ways”

What other sleepy products or services could be shaken awake like this?