*Vanity Number Confusion Sparks DRTV Debate

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NEW YORK - Although a growing number of TV commercials now list a toll-free number or Web site on-screen, these spots should not be confused with true DRTV marketing.

That was the message emphasized by several DRTV marketing experts yesterday at the DRTV Lead Summit, a conference organized by Advanstar Communications.

Much of the discussion focused on the use of so-called "vanity numbers," which use the lettering on the telephone key pad to spell a company name or idea, such as 1-800-FLOWERS or 1-800-MATTRESS. While vanity numbers may be central to a brand campaign, they make it difficult to track performance of broadcast stations.

"I don't know how could possibly track response to a vanity number," said Joe Shain, a principal in DRTV agency Shain Colavito Pensabene, New York. "If you're airing on multiple stations in the same market, there's no way to tell."

DRTV purists know very well that every DRTV spot should be tagged with its own toll-free number before it is distributed to a TV station. This system of individual tags allows DRTV marketers to know which stations pull the most response.

While vanity numbers are not considered part of a true DRTV campaign, they still do have applications in brand-building.

"If you go with the vanity number, it's important to know the advantages and disadvantages of it," Shain said. "If it's a number that people will call more than once throughout the year, then it's important to have a number that is memorable. If it's just one-time usage, then there's no need to do it [emphasize awareness of the vanity number]."

One way to enjoy the advantages of both brand awareness and DRTV measurability is to test with DRTV spots, then roll out the vanity number on the stations that performed best, said Carl Fremont, senior vice president and director of media services for Wunderman Cato Johnson, New York.

"We'll run separate 800 numbers to measure station response, then switch over to the vanity number for the rollout," he said. "It's not an ideal situation, but it gives some idea of what's working and what's not."

The vanity number issue may become less problematic in the future if interactive television becomes widespread. In the interactive future, consumers could use the remote control to respond to an ad without being required to remember an 800 number.

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