In a world where the concepts of “branding” and “marketing” became similar with the general concept of doing business, although only steps and processes of it, there is no surprise in the fact that some companies took rather less beaten paths and placed their bets on strategies that may seem out of the box on a first glance. While some companies invested all their money and efforts on logos, catch phrases and even color schemes to trademark, others built their names, world wide popularity, fame and fortune on toll – free vanity numbers to represent them and boost their brand and their sales.
One widely used definition of the toll – free vanity numbers describes them as “mnemonic” phone numbers that use letters associated with the digits on telephone keypads to spell a word, name, or phrase. You have seen them everywhere and used them maybe a dozen times, not taking into account that some of them are trademarked and represent the quintessence of a company’s marketing strategy.
Why would you use such trademarked number for marketing your company?
Don’t for a second believe that this practice is new, but choosing this path may also bring some troubles along the way. According to Diana Lock and her paper in California Law Review, using toll free vanity phone numbers as a company has plenty of advantages:
- Words are easier to remember than arbitrary strings of digits.
- Companies expect mnemonics to increase their business and reduce transaction costs for consumers, who can reach the companies’ services with little thought or research.
- Many businesses incorporate their trade name or trademark into the vanity number to make the number easier to memorize and to identify the business as the source of their goods or services.
Specialists also agree that using these numbers has a major impact on advertising and sales and given some famous precedents, such was the case with AT&T, the strategy proved itself of being efficient on a long term. Small businesses can find good counseling on the process of trademarking a vanity number and can read more on specialized websites run by experts and attorneys.
Are trademark infringements unavoidable?
It depends a lot on how you trademark your number and what consequences you can foresee. Sometimes, this marketing strategy also comes with the price of being the subject disputes and even trademark infringement lawsuits, as one of the biggest dangers when choosing this path is represented by competitors and their tendency to steer your clients toward their own company by using similar mnemonics with slightly different changes to them or just another area code, enough to put you into the position of changing the strategy altogether.
One famous and important such case was AT&T itself. To quote expert Lisa D. Dame, back in the day, AT&T marketed the mnemonic “1-800-OPERATOR.” 7 AT&T abandoned the number, however, after MCI obtained the misspelled mnemonic “1-800-OPERATER” and succeeded in diverting half a million dollars of business per month in calls intended for AT&T.
The infringements always go both ways
This wasn’t of course, the only case of business malpraxis and law history has a full database on giant companies trying to prevent small ones to use toll – free vanity numbers as well, because just as every coin has two sides, you can also confront the situation of defending your honorable marketing strategy in the court of law, only because other big corporations feel that you are cheating at this game, just as it was the case with Vail Associates (a ski giant) against a small business from Colorado making ski reservations back in 2001.
If you intend to trademark your vanity number, however, a set of rules have to be followed under the USPTO guidelines. Big names and big fortunes were made this way and if you do your research you will find that this is actually a legit strategy. But before plunging into the idea, the first investment you should think about when designing your budget is the trademark attorney who needs to guide you through the jungle.