Should Radio Commercials Always Offer a Toll-Free 800 number?


By Robert W. Bly


For decades, the go-to call-to-action (CTA) for radio commercials has been an 800 number, usually repeated 3 times.

Today 800-numbers still remain the preferred CTA for radio. However, an increasing number of radio spots today omit the 800 number -- and offer response by web URL or text only.

But is doing away with the 800 number really a good idea? ​My Facebook friend JL says that not having an 800 number is bad.

The reason, JL says, is that a CTA that requires a URL or text -- while omitting the 800 number -- ignores a significant swath of the market—and the richest: baby boomers. According to CNBC,  boomers have 10X more wealth than millennials.

JC comments: "A phone number is hard to remember, while a long website name is impossible to remember." But AM disagrees: "A URL is fine if it's easy to remember; is going to be easier to retain than 800-532-1275."

MS says: "I think it's a terrible idea to do away with the 800 number. Multiple

mechanisms win over singular ways."

DM: "Driving in a car listening to radio, it's kind of hard to write down a web or Facebook address, especially if it's a long one. It also profiles what to expect in terms of getting a live voice for help."


Copywriter KK opines: “Having a phone number is a helpful asset as a lot of people find a phone number easier to remember than a website.  Also, a website that is pitched in an ad sometimes has too many upsells, demands to much, and people get skeptical.”


He continues: “It seems like having a simple squeeze page that is solely set up for the radio ads -- and a dedicated phone line, with a person who actually answers the call and also replies to texts -- would help convert prospects into leads into customers.”


Business owner CB weights in: “Radio is not dead as a medium for advertising. The ROI for my companies is fantastic. Those driving can more easily, using Bluetooth, voice-direct their phone to call a number—making engaging so much easier than using a URL.”


Digital marketing agency owner SA suggest: “Perhaps the company name repeated 3 times is even easier to remember than a phone number. That way, all the listener has to do is a quick Google search when they get home to find the website URL, phone number, email address, or contact page.”


​"Restricting the CTA to web savvy responders excludes everyone else," says marketing consultant Bob Martel. "If that's the advertiser's intent, they should advertise on the Web."

Bob also says:

1. Most people can recall an 800 number repeated 3 times; not so much a URL.

2. Why text instead of a call? No stand-by operators? Are they screening responses? No dedicated phone line? What text message do they want? What happens after that?

3. The URL is probably a landing page with a longer pitch and another CTA.

BTW, decades ago, when I was a kid, Sheraton ran TV and radio commercials with their 800 number integrated into their jingle... and I still remember that phone number today!

Oh, and please don't email me saying YOU never listen to radio, or that nobody listens to radio anymore: According to, 92% of Americans age 18  and older listen to the radio every week.


About the author:


Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter with 40 years of experience. He has written copy for over 100 clients including General Electric, AT&T, Forbes, IBM, and CoreStates Bank. His website is