Agency: J Walter Thompson Author: Donald Kerr

National Code and Number Change


'There will not be another change to telephone numbers in our lifetime'  Don Cruickshank. DG Oftel, 1995

Apart from this one.
This is a case where the communication had to prompt behavioural change. It was an important change but one without benefit to the consumer, and one that was going to be imposed without choice. It was, furthermore, an unwelcome change, particularly as the people involved had been promised it would be unnecessary, and, as such, it was irritating at best and potentially extremely costly at worst. Any such change, however unavoidable, will be resisted, and the resistance in this case was expressed in a general reluctance to engage in the details of change until the last possible moment. The threat of allowing that reluctance to become a lack of adjustment to change was considerable, and that was the real challenge that the communication faced. It wasn't as if the subject matter was intrinsically interesting it was only telephone numbers! Nonetheless, the UK's love affair with telecommunications had outpaced the ability of the old numbering system to cope. It had to change and it had to be changed now. 

As a nation, Britain has embraced the new forms of telecommunications with unbridled enthusiasm. Over the last 2 years the penetration of mobile phones has increased to the point whereby it is unusual not to have one. Three million new mobile phones were purchased in the first 3 months of 2000, which means that there are now over 27 million users in the UK, almost half the population. The penetration of home computing has also boomed and NOP research quoted weekly in New Media Age estimates 6 million home Internet users in April 2000. Their figures are by no means the highest of the estimates. The total number of Internet users, at home, work and college they estimated at 10.7 million in December 1999. The growth in home working has seen a similar trend in the number of fax machines in domestic premises. All of this, however, is dwarfed by the expanding use of telecommunications in every aspect of business: faxes, internet, ISDN lines, etc.


The introduction of the extra '1' into all area codes in 1995 released an extra 9 billion numbers, and, in reality, was the starting point of the process of increasing capacity in the system. However, and crucially as it impacts on the problem posed to those parties involved in the communication this time around, it was never positioned as such. Indeed, the whole programme surrounding phONEday sought to create the opposite impression, that this was the last change for the foreseeable future. Any subsequent changes were, at a stroke, cast in the light of breaking that promise. A mere 2 years later, it was obvious that drastic action had to be taken as already in some areas of the UK, and most particularly London, the telecoms industry was running out of numbers in the 0171 and 0181 ranges. This was the time not only to release more codes in the 0209 ranges, but also to reorganise and rationalise the provision of numbers across the board, in order to bring some logic and thereby some consumer understanding into the numbering system. All very good in principle but, given the reaction to phONEday, how was this brave new world to be unveiled to the general public? How could the messages be broken into easily understood pieces? And, most importantly, how much time did the industry have? What was clear at the outset was that the main consequence of our increased dependence on telecommunications, particularly in the key commercial centres, was the concomitant increase in the cost of any failure, however short term. The industry had to change the numbering system and some of the biggest changes would have to occur overnight on a given date, but if the communication of the changes failed to prepare the telecom user, the network itself could be at risk. Every second the system does not work is of course revenue lost to the operator, and thus, this change could at worst be extremely costly in both financial and reputation terms.


The objectives of the communication campaign were twofold. Firstly, to communicate the changes to area codes and local numbers so as to ensure the least disruption to the network. Secondly, to fulfil the first objective in a way that would cast the telecommunications industry in the best possible light.


We were not working to the conventional communication objectives of the brand owner, and 'making a business contribution' can only be loosely applied to the measurement of the campaign. Avoidance of system failure is a poor substitute for the traditional models proving return on investment, but more accurately captures the true aims of the industry at the outset. We were given a simply expressed aim, complex in the detail of the changes we had to communicate, but uncomplicated in its ultimate measurement. There were no distribution, pricing, promotional or packaging issues to consider, merely the real behavioural change of the people involved and their recorded reaction to the change. The only competition we faced was the nation's irritation and resistance to change. In view of the hostility with which the national and simpler phONEday changes had been received in 1995, and the practical and financial consequences of failure this time around, it was difficult to decide which of the communications objectives was the most challenging. However, from the outset we had the statistics from that earlier change to use as benchmarks, in terms of both awareness prior to the day and the extent of the real behavioural adjustment to the new code. It was in this context that phONEday became an additional yardstick with which to assess our efforts. 

The time scale was almost 4 years from start to finish, and there were several key points in that period when, if communications did not do their job properly, the network could come under threat. J. Walter Thompson (JWT) was appointed as lead agency in October 1997, at which time the full details of the changes and the restructuring of the numbering system were unveiled. It is important in understanding the role of communications in managing the nation's adaptation to these changes that some of that detail is outlined here. There can have been few public information campaigns of such complexity, or with so much attention focused on them from all sides by the telephone users, business and residential, by the media, and, in addition, by all of the individual telecommunication companies who were contributing to its cost. 

The client, the campaign management team, consisted of representatives from BT, C&W, Orange and, in Northern Ireland, ntl. They reported to the industry at large through the communications working group.


In total, 11 1/2 million numbers were changing. The industry recognised very early that, whatever other means were employed, only advertising could give the campaign the stature and impact it demanded. As already highlighted, the introduction of the 1 on phONEday freed up 9 billion numbers, and this new system would be a consequence of that event. The 00 and 01 codes would be as before for international and domestic area codes respectively. The 02 and 03 groups of numbers would be used to satisfy all foreseeable future demand for new area codes. 07 would be introduced as the code signifying all mobile and pager numbers. The 08 group of numbers would henceforward be used for freephone and special rate services, and the 09 code would signify premium rate services. 04, 05 and 06 codes were to be kept in reserve for future use, as yet unspecified. 

The first manifestation of these changes were the alterations in the provision of 08 and 09 numbers. However, the biggest change was the introduction of new area codes in the 02 range and additions to the local numbers in six locations across the UK between September 1999 and October 2000. There would be parallel running of the new and old area codes across this period, but the changes to the new eight digit local numbers would occur overnight at 1 A.M. on 22 April 2000. The new mobile phone prefixes would run in parallel with the old ones from September 1999 until April 2001, with all new phones being issued having a new 07 number allocated to them.

The change to area codes and local numbers

There were six separate and geographically very different areas receiving new codes and local numbers. Outer London and inner London were to be reunited under one code again, 020, with a 7 being added to the front of inner London's local numbers and an 8 to the front of outer London's local numbers. From 22 April 2000, Londoners could dispense with the codes when dialling across the capital, but had to remember to add the eighth digit to the front of the local number. Similarly, Portsmouth and Southampton were being allocated a single area code, 023, but were having two extra digits added to their local numbers, 92 and 80 respectively. Cardiff was allocated the new area code 029 and two digits, 20, added to the local number, and Coventry had an 024 code and 76 added to the front of local numbers. The whole of Northern Ireland was being given one code, 028, but because there were over 30 existing area codes in the province and most local numbers were only four or five digits long, the change was much more complicated than in mainland Britain. The code change areas had to change their local number dialling on 22 April 2000, and so the shortterm focus in early 2000 would only be in those areas. However, since the area codes were also changing, this local focus would be surrounded by a national campaign preparing the rest of the country for the removal of the old codes later in 2000.

The target audiences

There were the two geographic areas mentioned above, namely the code change areas and the rest of the country. The Northern Ireland area was a special case because of the complexity of the change. The changes to one code area with different digits added to the front of local numbers also made Southampton and Portsmouth a particular problem, but the main threat to the network, and to the reputation of the industry, was London. Not only is it the financial centre of the UK, but also it is the base for all the national media, and also for the greatest intensity of businesses of all sizes. It also represented 80% of all the numbers being changed. 

The split between the business and residential audience was the other most important factor in drawing up the communications plan. The change to area codes, particularly that for London, had significant implications for the business community. Beyond the sheer financial cost for businesses in London of adjusting stationery, vehicle livery and signage, there was a need for all businesses nationally to amend their technical telecoms equipment to take account of the changes. Automatic call barring, for example, which stops employees dialling expensive premium lines or making international calls, would, if unadjusted, have prevented any calls to 02 codes too. When they were all added up, there was a maximum of twelve potential technical elements in a business's internal telephone system which needed to be dealt with prior to the end of parallel running of area codes in the autumn of 2000. Indeed, some of them had to be sorted out before the introduction of parallel running in September 1999. 

The mobile phone user was also identified as a separate audience. The move to 07 was gradual towards April 2001 and there was a benefit in the fact that there was a degree of churn in mobile phone ownership. Any new phone would be allocated an 07 number and of course there was direct communication from the companies to their customers. However, the industry had a responsibility to ensure that all mobile users and people calling mobile phones and pagers knew of the change to 07 and were prepared for it. 

A very important secondary target group throughout the campaign were the installers, maintainers and suppliers of telecom equipment to businesses.


The national announcement of the new telephone numbering system was planned for April 1998. The new allocation of 08 and 09 numbers started in late 1997. Parallel running of the new area codes and 07 prefixed mobile numbers started in September 1999 (slightly earlier in Northern Ireland). Flashover date in the six code change areas was 22 April 2000, and the end of parallel running of the area codes was staggered through August to October 2000. The end of parallel running of mobile prefixes was scheduled for April 2001.


The most significant decision was that we should establish a single 'brand' identity for the campaign, around which all the various strands would operate. The disparate nature of the audiences demanded focus in the communication, and an identity, distinct from the individual companies, also provided clarity in the press coverage. This was a task uniquely suited to advertising. We also decided that we should give out information gradually in easily accessible chunks, and ensure that each audience, business and residential, national and code change area, was given time to adapt over time to the implications of the change and the action required of them. In order to fulfil the objective of casting the industry in the best possible light, we believed that we needed to give businesses in particular as much warning as possible, and we needed to stress to everyone that each individual change, however inconvenient, was part of an overhaul of the system to prepare it for the foreseeable future. There should be no undue accusation that it was simply another panic reaction to unforeseen circumstances which was just as likely to occur again. 

The campaign began in April 1998, with the PR launch supported by a brief press campaign introducing the completely new numbering system. This took the form of 11 consecutive pages in two national broadsheets, the first ten explaining the proposed usage for each code, and the final page giving a summary and timetable. There was little advertising after this date until March 1999, when a concentrated attack on businesses was launched in the national press. This alerted businesses to the need to adapt their telephone systems to cope with the impending changes. It presented 1 June as the date by which these technical changes should be addressed and took the form of a direct response campaign giving out details of a phoneline from which further information could be sought. This could be seen as the real start of any call to action but was limited to businesses. The suppliers, installers and maintainers of phone equipment were also addressed through the mailing of a CDRom exhorting them to contact their customers. Printers and stationers were also contacted and informed at this time. 1 June was somewhat of a false deadline, but urgency did achieve the desired upturn in interest. Once that deadline passed, press advertising aimed at businesses continued on a drip strategy throughout the year. 

The full scale launch of the changes was in September 1999, when national television and press carried announcements of the changes emphasizing once again the reasons behind them and the main implications, including the allocation of the 07 prefix to mobile numbers. At this stage there was still no need for residential customers to do anything, and the 'actionorientated' messages were focused entirely on businesses. The exception to this was the campaign in Northern Ireland which had to introduce the idea to all customers that they should move immediately to a new 11 digit code and number for all crossprovincial dialling. This, it was judged, would simplify the shift from 38 area codes to one single Northern Ireland code, and prevent the local flashover change on 22 April being a system threat. The TV and press advertising in Northern Ireland was supported with a door drop to every house and business premises of a readyreckoner enabling people to check their old number against their new one. The changes were so complex in the province that we conceived the idea of enlisting children to the cause by producing, with the help of the local education authority, a television programme and work sheets to be included in the local school curriculum. 

From 7 February 2000 until early May, the focus shifted entirely on to the code change areas, with an intensive advertising campaign in all available local media. In Northern Ireland and London, because of the fit with television regions, we were able to use TV, but in the other areas we relied on radio, press and outdoor media. Even in this local countdown to flashover day, we tried to feed the audiences a succession of messages with slightly different emphases, thus building up a complete picture of the changes over time to make them easier to assimilate. The reminder that their local code was changing was the first stage, with increasing emphasis on the flashover date, and as April approached a greater stress on the need to add the appropriate extra digit to the local number. The urgency of the messages also increased as flashover approached, with the final stage being short radio ads and smaller, highfrequency press ads offering a helpline number where people could discover what their new number would be. There were no national advertisements at this time and little attempt to affect the industry's image. In the final 2 weeks we also arranged and sponsored phonein competitions based on the new local numbers on the breakfast show of all relevant commercial radio stations. 

Figure 1 charts the calls to the helpline throughout the campaign from the point at which businesses were given 1 June as an action date for technical changes. It reflects entirely the pattern of the media expenditure, with the other highpoints being the national launch in September and the local countdowns from January to April 2000. It also shows quite clearly the rush of interest at the last minute in the case of both the national business audience in late May 1999 and the local audiences in April this year.


It was clear from the outset that clarity was the essence of the campaign and that any creative idea would need to be inexhaustibly flexible to circumstances as well as adaptable to all media. There was a need to give the message sufficient stature at the beginning to impress upon people both the importance of the change and the fact that this was a complete reorganisation of the system, not another tactical reaction to unforeseen demand. This had to be complemented at the end of the campaign by a personal appeal to people to think of their own number in the scheme of things and how it would change. JWT developed the core elements of the campaign. The first of these was the name of the industry body responsible, 'All the phone companies together', with the emphasis on the collaboration of everyone, and the use of the more friendly 'phone' term, rather than the industry's own 'telecom' label. The second element was the campaign signature 'The Big Number'. This was intended to convey importance and capture all the individual changes across the numbering system. The consistent and intentionally simple creative idea was balloons, as a metaphor for the phone system being put under pressure and signifying in the launch commercial a sense of freedom from the constraints of the old numbering system, and introducing the idea of all the smaller changes being a consequence of this reorganisation of the system. The local campaigns employed balloons on a more personal level, and this was translated into the roadshows, etc., where balloons with the local changes on them were given away. 

The fourth core element of the campaign was the warning triangle phone device which was used where relevant to denote urgency, initially in the direct response advertising aimed at businesses, but ultimately in the code change areas in every media leading up to flashover (Figure 2a and 2b).


The overall result was that the change on 22 April went without a hitch. There was the usual scaremongering in the press, although in the period immediately preceding flashover some of the warnings of chaos were planted by the campaign team in order to instil a greater sense of urgency among businesses. However, all forecasts of system failure and consumer and business unpreparedness were proven wrong. Misdialling on the days after flashover was not only low in absolute terms but also much lower than for the equivalent period following the phONEday change. Figure 3 shows the absolute and comparative rates of misdialling, but the headline figures show that 12 hours into phONEday in 1995, 50% of people misdialled, whereas 12 hours into the Big Number, only one in three misdialled. This Big Number percentage fell to one in five during the weekend and then to less than one in five by Monday evening, compared to a 25% phONEday equivalent. All measures used by the industry itself judged that the exercise had been a success. The first and overriding business objective of avoiding undue pressure on the telecoms network was achieved.


How had communications contributed to this success, or, as better described, avoidance of failure, and what impact had all this upheaval had on the industry that had imposed it on the public? It would be good but entirely untrue to claim that we had invested in extensive research in order to substantiate an IPA case. The fact was that we recognised the inestimable value of research from the start as a means not merely of measuring progress against set targets, but as the principal indicator of where more or less effort might be needed along the 3year period of this complex public information exercise. 

Benchmarks of awareness and knowledge of change were developed on the basis of the phONEday exercise. This was done for both residential and business audiences, and it became the key monitor of progress for the whole duration of the campaign. BMRB conducted regular business and consumer surveys from April 1998, their frequency and geographical emphasis reflecting the campaign itself. In JanuaryApril 2000 these were done as frequently as once a week for residential consumers in code change areas and twice monthly for businesses. In addition to awareness and knowledge of changes, we asked businesses their views about the industry's approach to the changes and whether they had been helped sufficiently to adjust to them. The other measures of the campaign were the responses to the advertising of the industry helpline (Figure 1) and the visits to the 'Big Number' website, which was a common feature of all elements of the campaign. 

Figure 4 shows the overall increase in business awareness of code changes over the period of the advertising, and Figure 5 the equivalent trend for residential customers. The main difference between the two audiences is the fact that even businesses not in code change areas (CCAs) had to adjust their systems, whereas only residential customers in CCAs were affected up to April 2000. 

Underneath the general awareness of change, the campaign attempted the much more difficult task of alerting everyone to a specific date for change, and to the details of the change. The local campaign focused initially in February and early March on registering 22 April and subsequently on the fact that the new local number would be eight digits long and what the additional digits would be in each case. The tracking of the understanding of those messages is shown in Figures 6 and 7 and they demonstrate the difficulty of the second task. The last week saw the introduction of a 10'' commercial offering the helpline as a means of finding out your new number and thus the line itself became a key part of the campaign. The drop in midMarch in the percentage of residential customers thinking they knew their own new code and number reflects exactly the point at which the focus of the campaign swung on to informing them of what it would be. 

The numbers may look somewhat low for actual knowledge of own number, but we were very tough in analysing the answers. Respondents had to be absolutely correct in their reading of the new code and number, putting the extra digit or digits with the local number rather than on the end of the new code. By early April we had a reassuring 70% + of customers knowing how the new number would be configured, even if they then misappropriated the new elements. BMRB interviewers also stated that there was a resistance to being 'put on the spot' and having to justify their assertion that they knew their new number. 

The other less easily quantified objective was for the industry to introduce the changes in a way calculated to show them in the best possible light. The tracking of the business audience included three questions, which sought to monitor this issue, and the results are shown below. We judged that early warning and a longterm context for the immediate changes would help the image of the industry and it would seem that these did indeed depress the natural antipathy and annoyance of this audience. Figures 8 and 9 show our progress against the key measures in this respect. 

The research also tracked action taken by business, on technical items and publicity material. Table 1 highlights some of the key elements from that section of the research. While the action was somewhat lastminute on some elements, the general picture underscores the overall picture impact of the communication effort. 

The final element in any case of this type is that of value for money. The only comparison that we have is the national announcement of the extra 1 in area codes introduced in 1995 with the phONEday campaign. There are many differences in scale and complexity with the Big Number, which was and will be national in some respects and very local in others, and of course entails adding digits to local numbers as well as area codes. BT spent a reported 16 m in 1995 on phONEday. The industry has spent 12 m so far on the Big Number campaign, with further expenditure planned for the announcements of the end of parallel running of old area codes and mobile prefixes. 


October 1999

January 2000

March 2000

Entry in commercial directory




Company stationery




Marketing literature/adverts








Company signs













The 'business' objectives have been achieved thus far. Not only was the overnight behavioural change accomplished, but also, on the available evidence, it was seen as part of an inevitable reorganisation of the entire system to cope with demand. We believe that only advertising could have set the overall context such that this was achieved, and that the creation and maintenance of a core identity through advertising provided the extra element which allowed all the individual messages to work harder towards that positive outcome.









Source: A.C Nielsen










Base: all respondents, 820 April 1999, 610 June 1999, 603 October 1999, 413 February


Base: all respondents, 820 April 1999, 610 June 1999, 603 October 1999, 413 February