Vanity Numbers – Value or Not?


Over 20 years ago I worked for a company in Totowa, NJ. The company transported body parts to operating rooms, provided up-to-the-minute arrival information. This was done with Nextel Push-To-Talk cellular technology when it was brand new to the market. One day the last advertising brochure fell on my desk; I took a quick look and voila, 1-866-LOGISTIC! The company did not have this number! I walked past the CEO’s secretary and quietly entered his office and informed him of the marketing error. What followed was the entry of the marketing team; heads were going to roll! 100,000 ad packets were mailed to be received along the east coast… The CEO yelled at me to locate the number and buy it. I asked the CEO “what are you willing to spend to get the number ??”

It started a detective adventure – which company owned the number and more importantly, how much would it cost to buy it?

After 3 days of phone calls and follow-up leads (these were the pre-security days, no PINs and 2FAs didn’t exist yet) I found out it was owned by a beep / messaging company . The number had no meaning (866-564-4784 = 866-LOGISTIc) to the paging company after I explained what had happened. The person who would receive this pager would not be happy with the number of pages received and it would not be for them… The purchase price was $ 500…

So how did this “vanity” industry come about?

The toll free service was introducedvsed by AT&T in 1966 (US intrastate) and 1967 (US interstate) as an alternative to collect calls assisted by an operator. This Inward Wide Area Telephone Service (InWATS) allowed calls to be made directly from anywhere within a predefined area by dialing the 1-800 prefix and a seven-digit number.

The system initially provided no support for automatic number identification (caller ID) and no recording of the quantity of calls, instead forcing subscribers to get expensive fixed-rate lines that included a certain number. hours of incoming calls from a “band” of one or more US states or Canadian provinces. The first 800 toll-free calls lacked the complex routing features offered with modern toll-free service. After competing carriers could compete with AT&T in establishing toll-free service, the three-digit exchange following the 800 prefixes was tied to a specific destination carrier and area code; the number itself corresponded to specific telephone exchanges and groups of circuits. All calls went to a central destination; there was no way to make a toll-free call to another country.

Despite its limitations (and the relatively high cost of long distances during the 1970s – 1990s), the system was adequate for the needs of large users such as hotels, chains, airlines and car rental companies that used it to build a true national presence.

AT&T engineer Roy P. Weber of Bridgewater, New Jersey patented a “method of handling database communication calls” which was deployed by AT&T in 1982. The number called was an index in a database, allowing a ‘free call’ or ‘800 call’ to be directed anywhere. This feature and other advancements have enabled AT&T marketing analyst Dodge Cepeda of Bedminster, New Jersey to provide the ‘introduction of a toll-free 800 service to small and medium-sized businesses nationwide.

A free personalized number is an easy-to-remember personalized number or mnemonic; it spells and means something, or it contains an easily recognizable digital pattern. An easy-to-remember number has branding value as a direct response tool and is extremely popular. In the mid-1970s, carriers quickly realized that they could charge high fees for a specialized / vanity toll-free number (ex: 800-FLOWERS).

There is a rate structure for the personalized number each month and a per-minute charge for each call received. A non-personalized toll-free number in the 1980s ranged from $ 59.95 to $ 500, and the rate per minute to ring the call in your business was 6 to 10 cents per minute.
Compare the costs to today – an average AT&T toll-free number per month is $ 4.95 and the rate per minute is about 0.014. The most sought after vanity numbers can be bought on the open market (more details later in the article>)

What are the toll-free area codes?
Area codes for toll-free numbers used today: 800, 833, 844, 855, 866, 877 and 888 and 833 were the last added in May 2017

Do any of the free area codes work beyond the continental United States?

844 is a multi-country area code that works in the North American numbering plan: United States, Canada, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic , Grenada, Guam, Jamaica, Monserrat, Northern Marianne.

Are toll-free numbers still valuable? The answer is “it depends”.
From a running cost savings perspective – NO, not really. When the calls cost over 6 cents per minute (25 cents per minute from a pay phone) if I could call a business and they’d pay for my request – yes … there was value in ‘wanting my business And a savings for my wallet.
Now, with free unlimited cell phone minutes or per minute landline rates of just over a dime a minute… those free calls are not “necessary” as a consumer savings.

However, a vanity number is brand building, it unifies messaging and expands corporate exposure.

  • 1-800-WALGREENS
  • 1-888-BEST-BUY
  • 1-888-NEW-HOME
  • 1-800-PET-MEDS
  • 1-877-USA-ROOF
  • 1-800-GOFEDEX

Toll free numbers can be catchy, so remembered without being written down:

  • 1-800-HURT – NOW
  • 1-800-GIANT-MEN
  • 1-800-GOT-JUNK

Toll-free numbers may have only one word in their number to help users remember their purpose:

Seminole Casino in Brighton – 866-2– CASINO

Jenna Choctaw Pines Casino – 855-638- LUCK

Today, Vanity numbers don’t need to be free and can be purchased on the open market. (8/11/2021)

  • 279-999-9999 – is listed for $ 75,000
  • 320-222-2222 is available for $ 50,000
  • 203-888-0000 is listed for $ 15,000
  • 206-ABC-DEFG – is listed for $ 15,000
  • 209-REALTOR- is listed for $ 15,000

All publicity has a price. A vanity number can be thought of as a visual logo, it can be spoken or sung (used in a jingle), spell out a name for easy remembering, or perform a service, a quick direct connection. The value of using a personalized number (free or non-free) is a strategic business decision and should be carefully considered in relation to your business’ “fulfillment” goals.

At Corcentric, we specialize in initiative research / data analysis across many lines of business (including marketing) within an organization in order to reduce cost / efficiency and reduce downtime. manual work. For more information, please contact: [email protected]