The phrase “Call Now!” probably causes you to flinch. After thirty or more years of listening to television announcers persuade you to call one of history’s thousands of 800 numbers, you are probably looking for unique and innovative ways to promote your business through vanity toll free numbers.
But in doing so, it’s best to understand the context. The history of the toll free number is inexorably linked to the history of American consumerism, and how our nation has evolved from a relatively remote culture to a fast paced consumer society, a society that gratifies instantly, travels far and fast, and is linked at light speed to limitless resources of information and consumables. It’s the story of how, after World War II, America went on to capstone its place as the greatest free market in the world. Did vanity toll free numbers really have that large of an impact on the fabric of our society? Let’s take a look at where vanity numbers began, how they transformed the travel industry and then American business, how they’ve helped transition our society into one of instant communication, and why these numbers might mean more to your local business than a website.
Where, and Why, It All Started
It began with the English Postal Service. The United Kingdom’s mail service offered what was called a transfer service charge, allowing for a toll free phone call. Nearly simultaneously, across the pond in the United States,, AT & T didn’t like what it saw in its bottom line: it had too many operators on staff handling collect calls.
The UK introduced freephone. AT & T introduced 800 numbers. Stateside, vanity toll free numbers were first used in the travel industry, including hotels, rental car agencies and airlines. The service immediately “took off,” if you’ll pardon the pun, and America was introduced to toll free calling which facilitated cheaper, easier travel.
American Business Transformed
AT & T expanded its use of 800 numbers as demand increased. In the 1970s, a sort of “Mark Two” version of toll free numbers was introduced. This was the birth of vanity toll free numbers as we know them, and its invention (and related patents) are credited to Roy P. Weber. AT & T continued to control toll free with an iron first until the great Ma Bell breakup of 1984.
By that time, competition had increased the value of vanity toll free numbers. Nine years later, however, the FCC had a brilliant idea: making toll free numbers local. In short, 800 numbers no longer had to be nationwide purchases; small businesses could use 800 numbers within their own area code.
During that time, a young entrepreneur (already an extremely successful owner of over a dozen flower shops) named Jim McCann was slowly building a company called 1-800-FLOWERS. When the company bought ad space on a new cable channel called CNN in the early 90s, the business, as well as nationwide demand for vanity toll free numbers, went nuclear. The result today is a useful, portable business product that grows businesses both small and large.
Why Vanity Numbers Might Mean as Much as Your Dot Com
They’re simple. They’re easy to remember. They make your contact information memorable. They’re vanity toll free numbers. In the early 1960s, they were a necessary decision that saved money for AT & T. In the 1970s, the opportunity was there for large businesses to operate toll free on a grand scale. By the 1980s, competition made the demand for vanity toll free numbers even more fierce. In the 90s, toll free was transformed into a near essential tool for growing a storefront. Today, they remain invaluable marketing weapons for directed business growth.