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I’ve had several inquiries during the past week, of which this one is typical:

“I’d been telling the reps over and over (because it still comes up) about not using a phone number and a website. One of our managers sent me this. What do you think?”

What do I think? It’s an excellent attempt at conning a gullible industry and an irresponsibly bad job of reporting.

Who Funded This Study?

Although — astonishingly — that online trade journal report didn’t think this was worth mentioning, the study was funded by 800response, which bills itself as “the leading provider of vanity 800 numbers.” Hmm. And the study they funded concluded that advertisers should use vanity 800 numbers in their advertising? What a shock.

This Isn’t Research. It’s Marketing.

800response is engaging in marketing, not in research. What’s the difference?

Research is an exploration. Marketing is the establishing or shaping of a brand’s perception by consumers (individuals, businesses, industries, voters, etc.). A research study seeks to discover. A marketing study looks for proof, for validation of a preconceived notion.

800response didn’t fund this study to determine whether 800 vanity numbers are valuable to advertisers. The study was conducted to find evidence to support the contention that is valuable to advertisers.

I’m not suggesting that either Infosurv or 800response is dishonest. They’re simply depending upon gullible media to report the “study” without critically examining it. (800response does, however, approach an ethical boundary by using a couple of obvious fallacies to fool advertising outlets. More on that in a moment.)

If I Wanted To Design A Study To Prove That Vanity Numbers Are More Memorable Than Web Addresses, Here’s What I’d Do.

I’d create a commercial for a fictitious company — let’s call it “Bayside Auto Sales.” In that commercial, I would include *both a vanity 800 number and the company’s Web address.

For the vanity number, I’d pick something that’s very simple and that sells the results the advertiser offers. Something like “1-800-NEW-AUTO.”

For the company’s URL, I’d select something that doesn’t even mention the results and is both long and uninteresting. Something like “www.baysideautosales.com.”

Do you have any doubt about which would be remembered by more listeners?

“Oh, but Dan, you’re deliberately picking a ridiculous example. Of course more people would recall 1-800-NEW-AUTO than www.baysideautosales.com.”

Of course. But I’m not being ridiculous. That happens to be one pairing of vanity number & URL they tested against each other in that study.

See what I mean?

I wonder how 1-800-NEW-AUTO would test against NewAuto.com?

(*If I really wanted to test, rather than “prove,” I would conduct a multivariate test: one commercial with just the URL; one with just the phone number; one with both. 800response’s press releases don’t indicate whether the test was done with a commercial featuring a URL and a phone number or with two commercials, each featuring only the phone number or the URL. I suspect they tested a single spot that included both. Regardless, it’s a biased test.)

Now Let’s Add A False Assumption To The Biased “Study.”

The study purports to measure “recall.” But the goal of a radio commercial should not be to motivate consumers to recall something. It should motivate consumers to act. Anyone who equates “recall” with “action” either is seriously confused or is attempting to confuse someone else.

Bring In The Red Herring.

Then, bizarrely, they throw in gibberish about how many consumers move on to competitors’ websites. What does that have to do with the purported purpose of this “study” — comparing recall effectiveness? Nothing. But it helps confuse the target of this propaganda campaign, so why not include it?

Question: If “using the Internet to research the competition” truly is a dangerous result of sending prospects to your website, then why do they say you should put both a vanity phone number and a Web address in a commercial? It would make more sense to say, “FOR GOD’S SAKE, DON’T INCLUDE YOUR WEB ADDRESS!”

Answer: Their goal isn’t to help advertisers get better results. It’s to sell more vanity phone numbers.

Let’s Add Another Fallacy To The Mix.

“Face logic.”

It seems logical that including both a phone number and a URL would maximize listener response, doesn’t it? Sure it does. Only problem: It doesn’t maximize response; it lessens it.

On the face of it, it seems logical. But it’s not true. That’s called “Face Logic.”

In reality, every successful direct marketer knows not to include more than one method of responding to the offer because it will decrease the total response rate. This has been proven consistently in test after test (real world marketing “split tests,” not PR-driven pretend tests) for more than 40 years.

Why? Because each time you force prospects to make a choice before they can respond to your offer, you lose some of those prospects. That’s because Choice Paralyzes Response.

“I’ve got to fly from Los Angeles to Albuquerque, and there are two flights per day. Hmm, which should I pick? I’ll think about that later.”


“I’ve got to fly from Los Angeles to Albuquerque, and there’s only one flight per day. I’d better book my seat now.”

The smart (i.e., successful) radio advertiser gives a single Call To Action. How does the advertiser know which it should be?

What is the action that most people take in order to purchase from you or to become an active prospect (e.g., request information)? That should be your Call To Action.

A friend of mine loves advertising on the radio, because it produces a huge ROI for his company. He has an expensive website. But all of his commercials give only one Call To Action: to call a telephone number. Why? Because he’s trained a killer telesales force that knows how to convert telephone inquiries into sales. Meanwhile, his website is terrible at converting prospects.

(He doesn’t realize that. He tells other business owners, “Don’t bother including your Web address in your commercial. It never works.” Well, not for him.)

Here’s How It Works, Folks.

Vendor of vanity 800 numbers publishes misleading study and draws unsupportable conclusions.

Media — including, alas, media that are supposed to inform our industry — dutifully report the “study.”

Radio people read it, assume it must be true, and tell clients to include phone numbers and Web addresses in all their commercials.

Those clients get weaker results than if a proper Call To Action had been given.

Those clients become converted to the “Radio Doesn’t Work” gang.

When those clients doesn’t renew, the account executive becomes even more desperate to find new clients to replace them.

The added desperation — both of the A.E. and the radio station – leads to an even greater “We’ll do anything you say if you pay us” attitude.

The station finds it even more difficult to sell advertising.

Programming gets compromised in order to “do whatever the client wants so we can get their money.”

Weaker programming leads to weaker sales.

The staff is “downsized.”

And, as always, someone gets up at a convention at declares, “Radio is in better shape than ever!”

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  • Tom February 10, 2009, 6:03 am

    You got it right on target…the logic of the study was flawed, and so many of the media will just tell what they read, and not think about it. The Sun shines light, feathers are light, therefore the sun shines feathers..right?

  • Archer February 10, 2009, 6:55 am

    These days, my wife or I usually don’t even do business with a company we can’t check out on the web first. Even if their ad doesn’t give a website, we’ll Yahoo! or Google them or check the BBB if it’s going to be an important purchase. We’ll go visit them physically before we’d even think of calling them… Phones have become tertiary, in my humble opinion.

  • Barry Cole February 10, 2009, 8:33 am

    You are sooo right Dan.
    I’ve been screaming the one call to action for years to those that should know.(The dickweeds of Power)
    I just get the deer in the headliight look.

  • John February 10, 2009, 8:39 am

    Who is this RBR? Some site that will run advertising as a news story if they get paid? Wouldn’t surprise me.
    That’s the way most news outlets work these days. Advertisers get to run anything they want as news if they pay extra for it. And there are just enough suckers out there to buy it.

  • sharkeysharkdog February 10, 2009, 10:51 am

    I agree with everything you say, but your study would be missing a control. You would need one commercial without the URL or the phone number. That way you would see if mentioning the phone number or url means anything or if people “research” a client on their own. Unless, of course, the copy is too short then include the URL, street address, points of interest near the store and the phone number. LOL
    On another note, I specifically remember a customer who would sell spots nationally with a local tag of the phone number to track response. The tag had the number at least 5 times and if they didn’t get a good enough response they would call to listen to the tag to make sure we said it right.

  • Sandy Weaver Carman February 10, 2009, 11:02 am

    GREAT post, Dan…thanks!

  • Anonymous February 10, 2009, 1:24 pm

    Thanks Dan.. This Marketing vs Research thought is an excellent POINT that applies to everyone everywhere. Know the difference. Here you have a radio professional who takes this and doesn’t catch it as he should. The leads me to think what else he may be missing.
    Be wary of this…..your boss may not always ‘eat they wheaties’-adam,

  • Kevin Clay February 10, 2009, 4:31 pm

    How many times has some consultant/PD/GM seen a study like the one you referred to and taken it as gospel, then built a whole “must follow” philosophy around it? You’ve reminded us that it’s good to ask questions. Thanks again!

  • Rajesh February 10, 2009, 10:58 pm

    Dan, are there any online resources where good research on radio is available free of cost?

    Could you post links to any such resources please?

  • Bill Quimby February 11, 2009, 6:43 am


    Excellent post! I’m in the same industry as Response Marketing is finding vanity 800 numbers for clients so I want vanity numbers to be helpful to my customers just as much as they do, but I wrote the exact same thing the other day (and I updated right away to link to you and your article!) I thought I was the only one that saw this and understood it was comparing apples to oranges just to sell your own apples.

    They’ve done this before. See their fake “statistics” about 58% of consumers preferring to dial vanity numbers over numeric advertising. I’m in this business and have to explain the vanity numbers that spell things are kind of like making a front door to your business that is easier to find rather than easier to open. People say they prefer a door that’s easy to open but a door that’s easier to open generates a higher response.

    I may be losing people but to say that consumers prefer a door that’s easier to find over a door that’s easier to open is crap. Advertisers prefer it because it generates more calls if it’s easier to find but consumers are lazy and if asked they always say they prefer the one that’s easier to open. Anyway the point is that they definitely use and twist “research” solely for the purpose of selling more and earning a few links from people who don’t analyze what they’re doing.

    Thanks for the straight talk!

    Bill Quimby
    President of TollFreeNumbers.com

  • bparkme February 13, 2009, 4:42 am

    Just chiming in with my two cents on the topic of this study and the impression it seems to be having on some of your readers…

    After reading the posts here, I decided to pull out the phone book and looked at some typical web addresses that companies use. In 99.9% of the cases, a company’s web address matches their company name, not their phone number. I mean, when was the last time you saw a company, or had a client, whose web site wasn’t some variation of their company name – either exactly matching the company name, like the example you give here – Bayside Auto Sales and baysideautosales.com? Or, an abbreviated version of a company name, like CBCads.com? To that point, when have you seen a company that has a URL like 800newauto.com? I can’t come up with any off the top of my head, and I’ve been working in the advertising business, with dozens and dozens of clients for ten years.

    The point, in my opinion, of the study is to show that a significantly LOW portion of consumers are able to recall a web address. So, when they’re in their cars on the way to or home from work, or going to the ski area on the weekends, they’re NOT going to remember a URL in a radio or billboard ad, they are going to remember the phone number, as the study proves.

    So, I’m not sure what the point is of nit picking how the study looks at the recall of a phone number vs. a URL. It seems to me that the “mock” ads they use to test consumer recall are realistic representations of actual ads we hear on the radio and see in print, and I’m assuming that that was the intention based on the methodology of the study.

    And, my last point is, we all know that companies use research and statistics to prove their credibility and back up their products. Concluding that all such statistics cited by companies in this respect are therefore necessarily fake or made up – as some comments here imply — is faulty, assumptive logic. Infosurv, the market research company that conducted this study and collected the data, is a credible firm. They’re not going to jeopardize their reputation by conducting biased studies. Is is possible some of the most outspoken comments on this topic reflect their own biased agenda?

  • Dan O’Day February 13, 2009, 5:00 pm

    @ bparkme: Just as companies that aren’t fortunate enough to be assigned phone numbers that spell out an easy to remember word or phrase have the option of obtaining “vanity numbers,” so do all website owners have the option of buying a more memorable URL and simply having it redirect to any page of their website they desire.

    Each faces the same difficulty: Finding a “good” one that is available. I don’t even need to check to know that both “1-800-NEWAUTO” and “NewAuto.com” were taken long ago by savvy marketers.

    when have you seen a company that has a URL like 800newauto.com

    Actually, pretty much every day. I’ll pick a category right now.

    “Shoes.” Applying the model used with “1-800-NEWAUTO,” I’m willing to wager a large amount of money that “www.NewShoes.com” will lead me to a website that somehow is involved in the selling of shoes.

    Let me check…


    Is is possible some of the most outspoken comments on this topic reflect their own biased agenda?

    I’ve been in radio my entire adult life, and I’ve got to say I’ve never noticed an “anti toll-free vanity phone number” bias among radio people.

    By the way, I see you opened your blogging account within just the past few days. If my modest post somehow motivated you to join the blogging world, welcome!

  • Henaway March 16, 2009, 7:41 am

    This thing smacks of Microsoft’s “Get The Facts” campaign, where Microsoft buys some studies that show that buying Microsoft software leads to lower TCO over linux. In situations specifically designed to make anything but a Microsoft/Windows solution next to impossible.

    Sad that an industry rag would actually report it like it’s truth.