Why phone numbers in ads are a bad idea

Toy phone
Who you gonna call?

As a voice actor I see countless radio commercial scripts containing phone numbers. Here’s why you should reconsider this strategy.


When I was 15, before the proliferation of mobile phones, I had 17 phone numbers committed to memory:

  • My home
  • 4 x aunts and uncles
  • Mum’s work number
  • Dad’s work number
  • Clare (owner of the dictation machine)
  • Chantelle
  • Rebecca
  • Catherine
  • Stacey
  • Ana
  • Suzanna
  • My 2 favourite radio stations
  • And Michael—a guy I had a massive crush on but never dared to call. I memorised his number from the phone book just in case I ever needed it.

Flash forward just over 20 years, and that number is 3: 2 numbers from my original list that haven’t changed plus my mobile number (which I only know from filling out online forms). After moving 3 times I have no idea what my home phone number is, couldn’t tell you any of my family’s mobile numbers and I’d be screwed if I locked myself out of the house and had to call hubby reverse charges from a pay phone! Actually change that total to 4 numbers—1800 REVERSE would at least get me half way to calling him.

I am not alone. UK research suggests more than 50 per cent of people do not know their partner’s phone number by heart. Almost half can only remember three telephone numbers.

How can we expect these same people to memorise a random number they hear on a radio commercial? People who, it is safe to assume, are either driving or at work—so it’s a pretty sure bet they won’t have anything to record the number either (be it their mobile or the old school pen and paper).

From memory to maths—the average 30 second commercial has around 75 words. A landline phone number is 8 words (10 if you include the area code). Whack that number in your ad twice and you have eaten up 20 per cent of your spot—precious time you could have spent on offers, specials and product details. You could even repeat your business name a few times—let’s face it—customers are much more likely to Google before calling and if they want to call, they’ll Google the number too! According to SmallBizTrends, in 2013 1 in 3 mobile searches had a local intent and Google conducted 30 million click-to-calls each month.

There are a couple of exceptions. Phone numbers that are part of a jingle can catch on. 807 155 would get you a mini skip in the mid 80s (I still recall the spot to the tune of the ‘I don’t know but I’ve been told’ military cadence) and the repetitious 13 11 66 Pizza Hut jingle is burnt into my memory. Vanity numbers such as Pizza Hut’s current 1300 PIZZA HUT can also work well in radio advertising. And I am just talking radio here—phone numbers can be used very effectively in TV and online advertising and corporate videos.

We’re the men from Mini Skips | We’re the men from Mini Skips

Portable steel rubbish tips | Portable steel rubbish tips

Call 807 155 | 807 155

That’s 807 155 | 807 155

Do you agree? Are there any other exceptions? Can you recite any catchy jingles?! Leave a comment below. For now, I’m off to memorise hubby’s mobile number—if I was able to do it for Michael…

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