Hotel History: The Magic of 800-325-3535
In 1968, after ITT acquired the Sheraton Corporation of America, Sheraton needed a new advertising program after the highly-successful "Keyed-up Executives Unwind at Sheraton" campaign.
In the spring of 1969, ITT President Harold Geneen was touring the Sheraton Boston Hotel when Sheraton executive Dave Turner began to describe the Sheraton new Reservatron system. Geneen thought that ITT could create a national single number watts line to replace the 200 phone numbers that Sheraton listed nationwide. With the help of ITT's telephone technicians, the new system was created. Perhaps the greatest problem facing Sheraton's Marketing Director William Morton was picking one unforgettable number. With the advice of telephone company psychologists, Morton settled on the number 800-325-3535. Why? Because it was easy to dial. When area codes were introduced to speed the calling of long-distance numbers, telephones had rotary dials. The nearest digit to the dialing stopper, and thus the digit that could be dialed the quickest was 1. Next came 2 and then 3. The psychologist selected 2, 3 and 5 because they were the quickest to dial and in a sequence that was easy to remember.
By the winter of 1970, the new 800 number was on-line and the new advertising campaign broke with saturation TV, full-page magazine ads and incessant repetition of "eight, oh, oh, three-two-five, three-five, three-five." The number was set to a catchy tune which was recorded by the Boston Pops. A singing dog performed it on Johnny Carson's show, it was cocktail-lounge background music in a TV drama and it was played at skating rinks. The reservations flowed into Sheraton in ever-increasing numbers, breaking records every month.
At one of ITT's General Managers Meetings (GMM) in New York where 80 executives gathered monthly to report on the performance of ITT's many companies, I reported about the extraordinary success of the ever-increasing number of reservations pouring into the Sheraton central Reservation offices. ITT President Harold Geneen responded, "I don't think that anyone will remember that number. I can't ever remember it." I responded, "Mr. Geneen, How many secretary's do you have?" "Nine". When was the last time you made a hotel reservation for yourself?" "I can't recall" "No wonder you can't remember 800-325-3535. You never use it yourself. Thank goodness, the rest of the business world needs to call it themselves." The GMM attendees cracked up and gave me an ovation.
If you wonder how such an exchange could take place without losing my job, don't forget that I was the Product Line Manager (PLM) for Hotel Operations, an invention of Geneen. The concept was brilliant in several ways. Since PLM's had no P&L responsibility, we could not issue orders to the line. Nevertheless, we were empowered to go anywhere, look at anything, speak to anyone and compel answers. And we relayed our recommendations to the President office where Harold Geneen would review them. One thing you learned fast was that he hated "Yes-Men". He thrived on cheerful conflict.