Got Your Number

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?

6 thoughts on “Got Your Number”

  1. In sampling, it’s not so much about the size as it is about the design. I’d say their poll was simply a marketing ploy – touching on an issue with high salience. Certainly, fake polls are being milked by affiliate marketers on the web like you wouldn’t believe – bring people in to answer a bogus poll question, then send them on to a ‘Win an iPod’ email submit.

    As the Josh Kopleman post notes, the poll was large by most standards… and it predicted an Obama win in PA (Obama 57% vs. Clinton 43%). This was contrary to the results of traditional polls at the time. Flash forward to today, and we can actually look at the result of the PA primary (drum roll please)… Clinton 55%, Obama 45%. The 411 poll got it completely wrong – most likely because it asked a very skewed set of people rather than a representative mix of potential voters.

    Essentially, it was a non-scientific poll (so reporting error levels, as JK’s post does, is meaningless). Which just goes to show, it isn’t the size that matters, it is what you do with what you’ve got.

    End of sermon ;o)

  2. When it comes to free directory assistance (aka, “411” or “information”), you have LOTS of choices. They differ in some important ways, so don’t call just one or two – try them all out and see which one(s) you prefer – you may just end up with more than one in your phone directory. Also, with this many companies trying to get our search attention, you may want to try them all again every so often just to see what’s new! Grin!

    I prefer the ones that have operators to help when the automation doesn’t recognize me, that get me accurate information fast, and that also don’t restrict me to only business searches – sometimes I need to find people, too!

    1-800-YellowPages (800-935-5697)
    1-800-2ChaCha (800-224-2242)
    1-800-411-SAVE (800-411-7283)
    1-800-555-Tell (800-555-8355)
    1-800-Call-411 (800-225-5411)
    1-800-Call-Dex (800-225-5339)
    1-800-Free-411 (800-373-3411)
    1-800-Goog-411 (800-466-4411)
    1-800-Info-Fast (800-463-6327)
    1-800-The-Info (800-843-4636)

  3. I have to agree with pinetrees10 – I prefer the ones with real people. As good as Google gets combing through the mountains of data, I can still count on a person to figure out what I need and find it for me.

    I use 800-411-SAVE because the use live operators and can find numbers businesses, people, and government offices in the US and Canada.

  4. The problem for me with these ads, is that the value proposition is not being communicated.

    This is like when used to shoot ferrits out of a canon…got our attention, yes, but no one used it.

  5. Funny, 5 guys sporting the full 118 costume were sitting (more like regularly running on the spot, stretching, and howling “Got Your Number”) just a few rows from us at last night’s AB v England match.

    It certainly brought back memories of the UK for me and I have to say I instantly remembered the ads, the number and the purpose. Effective, and in this case extremely entertaining.

  6. It’s always better talking to a person than a machine. This is why I always use 1-800-411-SAVE, of course the second reason being…its FREE!

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