118 118 (UK)


118 118 (UK)

118 118 is a UK directory enquiries provider based in Cardiff[1] that assists customers with telephone number enquiries and general queries.

118 118 company logo

The service is provided by The Number UK Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of US directory enquiries provider Knowledge Generation Bureau (formerly InfoNXX), whose company motto is "know more". It also has sister services in Italy, utilising the number (amongst others) 892 892; in France, using 118 218; in Ireland, using 11850; and Switzerland, using 18 18. 118 118 has been in operation since taking its first call in December 2002. Sweden also has a directory enquiries service which uses the numbers 118 118.

Contents

Deregulation

The different 118 numbers were allocated by lottery. Originally Surrey-based Leaf Telecom was allocated the 118118 number; The Number paid a reported £2 million to acquire it.[2]

Products

118 118 is primarily seen as a directory enquiries service, but provides a wider range of services, not only providing numbers to users but also train times, cinema listings and directions.

Since May 2008 118 118 has introduced a service through which customers are able to call or text and ask any question they want and the info team will find the answer, from "What bars are open late at night?" to "What are average July temperatures for the Sahara Desert?".

Since these services have been added the pricing has changed; it is now 41p per call plus £1.29 per minute, charged by the second (minimum 60 second charge). These prices vary by UK network, but the prices cited are for calls originated from a BT landline, which is used as the pricing standard indicator.

Another number provided by the company, 118811, charges a fixed-rate 50p.

A free service, providing only directory enquiries, is also available by dialling 0800 118 3733 (0800 118 FREE). This is an automated service providing directory enquiries only and is paid for by advertising. Launched with a registration process in January 2006, the requirement for registration has now been removed.

Advertising

118 118's advertising features two men with droopy moustaches, wearing items of clothing with 118 and two parallel red stripes on it. They have appeared in various forms, currently as 'mad professors' with crazy grey hair. In their current incarnation they are promoting the company's 'Ask Us Anything' service via the web, calls and text. The catchphrase-question is "Who you gonna call?".

The 118 118 advertising was originally launched using the two men dressed as athletic runners. Used with the catchphrase "Got Your Number!", the runners characters featured in a high-profile advertising (created by British marketing agency WCRS) and PR campaign (created by Brazil) before deregulation in August 2003. This slogan has fallen into disuse by the marketing department of 118 118 because of the expansion of service beyond directory enquiries alone, but the slogan has lived on in the minds of the public. The use of the runners characters is particularly noted for the legal action threatened by 1970s record-breaking runner David Bedford.[3] 118 118 responded to this by stating that their inspiration was partly the late American runner Steve Prefontaine. Bedford subsequently briefly worked for 118 500, a rival directory enquiries service provided by BT.

Subsequently they have appeared in a range of guises, including spoof detectives, as the company expanded on its range of services. During this period, although generally forgotten by the public, the slogan used was "We're here to help!", a different focus driven by the expansion of products offered.

The 118 118 Team: A parody of The A-Team

In February 2006 a new advertising campaign was launched in which the runners appeared in advertisements in the style of the television show The A-Team, using the A-Team theme tune with the number 118 sung over the music. 118 118 was also the sponsor of Channel 4's showing of the American television series Lost. Despite the series moving to Sky One, the sponsorship continued. The first series featured the pair as amateur actors rehearsing in an empty hall, the second series featured them as psychiatrists, and the third and fourth has shown them as stranded on a remote island.

As Sky One obtained the rights to the series from Channel 4, 118 118 began to sponsor Prison Break on five - using the same 'psychiatrist' clips used for Lost. However, these will change in the near future to brand new clips which feature the boys 'lost' on their very own island and using 118 118 services to help them.

From March 2007, 118 118 began to sponsor ITV1 Movies. A daily cartoon strip advertising the service also ran, from 2008 to 2010, in Metro, a free newspaper. In Italy, the sister directory 892 892 launched a new TV campaign using a very similar style character duo as in the UK. Two men dressed in skin-tight red lycra with the number "892" on each of their chests are seen in various stages of their life as they inspire people across the land to become disco dancers - whilst publicising the 892 892 number.

In early 2009 Ray Parker Junior appeared alongside the droopy moustache men singing a 118 specific version of the Ghostbusters theme tune, at one point featuring the 118 men in place of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from the film. Alongside the advert an online game was produced where users could upload their own photos to replace the faces of the 118 118 men and dance alongside Ray Parker Junior to the Ghostbusters theme tune. In late 2009, the runners were animated, specifically promoting food and drink establishments available for booking via 118 118. In 2010 this campaign was dropped in favour of comedic scenarios.

Expansion

In 2006 kgb_ the parent company of 118 118 in the UK, purchased rival Directory Assistance provider Conduit to produce the largest company of their type in the UK. Because of this the 118 118 call centres in the UK now handle 118 888 calls, and 118.com now serves 118118.com. Not only this, the company now handles Orange 118000 calls on behalf of Orange, previously dealt with via Conduit.

Any question SMS services

118 expanded its SMS services by entering the SMS text based "any question" marketplace, whereby the service answers questions sent by SMS text on any topic. In December 2008, The Number UK Ltd, purchased Texperts,[4] one of the companies operating in this market in the UK since 2003.

Criticism

In 2003 the company was criticised in the national media, after it was alleged that some call centre operatives cut calls short in order to reduce the average call time and to increase their bonuses. The company was warned that, had it encouraged the abuse, it could face a fine or lose its licence to operate. Oftel was satisfied, however, that the company had moved quickly to stamp out any abuses.[5]

In 2008, the company was again criticised, for sending allegedly racist jokes on request via its text service. The jokes in question were requested by a man of Asian origin, who then complained to the local press.[6]

Although 'The Number UK' Ltd made no attempt to excuse the fact that the joke had been sent out in error, it is well known amongst current and former employees of 'The Number' that the man in question sent six separate requests for 'Asian jokes' in a two-hour period.

References

External links


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