More than 80 companies, including advertisers and direct marketing
agencies, have formed an alliance to fight Oftel’s plans to change
radically freephone numbers.
The Freephone User Group claims that Oftel’s proposal - which is
currently under consultation - to move all existing and future six-digit
0800 numbers to seven digits could cost the telephone-based industries
pounds 500 million if it is implemented.
Seven changes have been suggested, but the one the alliance cites as the
major cause for concern is the insertion of a fixed-digit between 0800
and the rest of the number.
This means that advertisers such as Guardian Direct, the AA and Forte
Hotels would have to change the trademark numbers around which they have
built their marketing campaigns. Forte has 0800 40 40 40, while Guardian
Direct plays on its owl emblem with 0800 28 28 20.
The alliance claims that Oftel has failed to consult properly, and has
failed to make a strong case for the change.
Oftel explained that a major contributing factor in the change is that
it wants to switch all the current 0500 numbers - free lines managed by
cable telephone operators - to 0800 numbers, thus creating a single
identity for customers to recognise.
A spokesperson said: ’0800 has become an accepted standard, but the 0500
numbers are not so easily recognised as being free of charge to the
While there is currently room for expansion in the 0800 field, the
capacity will reduce when 0500 numbers are moved over.’
The Direct Marketing Association, whose long-standing Telephone Council
is also rallying against the proposals, claims there is plenty of
capacity for new six-digit numbers.
Robert Dirskovski, the council manager, said: ’The capacity issue is
very weak. Only 30 per cent of the current 0800 capacity is in use and
0500 only accounts for 20 per cent of freephone numbers. There are other
ways around this. We propose that existing numbers are allowed to stay
the same, while new ones will carry seven digits.’
Court Burkitt & Company is a member of the Freephone User Group. Julian
Calderara, its managing director, said: ’It is irksome when advertisers
invest substantially in making a telephone number memorable and build
the advertising around it, only to be told they have to change.
’Some have invested millions over many years; the numbers may be granted
by Oftel, but they are paid for by the advertisers.’