The Hair-Raising Stunt That Scored a Secret Touchdown

For years, Old Spice — primarily a men’s shampoo and deodorant brand — has anchored its marketing campaigns around a promise: use our stuff and women will find you attractive. But they tend to communicate that value proposition in over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek ad campaigns. In 2010, for example, the brand had a viral hit, here, that racked up tens of millions of views on YouTube and was widelyparodied

Old Spice never quite captured the magic of that ad again, but they definitely kept their strategy of lampooning alpha-male sexual attraction. The ad below and also available here, from 2013, is a great example.

If you don’t want to take the 30 seconds to watch it, here are the basics: Some executives are seated at a table, listening to a rather boring presentation. A guy with strangely good hair notices an attractive woman across the table. His hair, absurdly, shuffles off his head, crossing the table as if it were a puppy. No one at the meeting other than the woman notices; she, however, finds the hair puppy cute and gives it her phone number. The hair returns to its owner, number in hand (er, if hair had hands), for the man to call later.

It’s more creepy than funny. But it also has a surprise. Let’s take a closer look at the woman’s phone number, below.

It’s 866-617-4247.

If you’re familiar with TV phone numbers, you may immediately notice that there’s something different about this one. Specifically, it looks like it could have been real. Most ads, TV shows, and movies use fake numbers — numbers that begin with 555 (e.g. 555-1234). The 555 exchange isn’t used in most cases, although there are exceptions. On the other hand, the 866 area code, as seen above, is a toll-free one in North America. Not only does the number above look real, but it won’t cost you anything to call it.

If you dial 866-617-4247 today, you’ll be disappointed — callers are greeted with the message “We are sorry. An application error has occurred. Goodbye!” twice, and then your phone will either disconnect or your carrier will tell you that the call can’t be completed. (Try it if you want.) But if you tried in around when the ad aired, something else happened. A writer for BizJournals gave it a try, and found that the number did, indeed, work:

Unprompted but curious, I paused the video and punched the digits – 866-617-4247. A sexy female voice answered and gushed: “Hey, there. I’m so glad you called. That says you’re the type of guy who knows exactly what to do with a series of numbers written down on a piece of paper. I really like that in a man.”

Then a beep sounded. But I hung up without leaving a message, perhaps an indication that I’m not the best candidate for P&G to target as an Old Spice Man. That didn’t stop me from calling back several times. The phone message changed about every third call. One alternative message from what at first sounded like a steamed female executive: “How did you get this number? Just kidding. I definitely gave it to you.”

Funny, sure, but not all that notable. Unless you were one of two lucky callers. As AOL reported, two of the more than 1,000 people who called the number weren’t greeted with a recording; they were greeted with Super Bowl tickets. Old Spice, to give an extra boost to the marketing campaign, awarded two lucky callers a pair of tickets to the biggest American sports event of the year, as well as “$500 in spending money, $2,500 to offset taxes and a three-night stay at a four-star hotel in Times Square,” according to Bleacher Report.

And they didn’t even have to have their hair jump across a table.

Bonus fact: Why is 555 the fake number exchange? According to Mental Floss, no one is really sure, and it doesn’t seem to be something that Hollywood and the phone companies planned. But one 555 number is special: 555-2368. It tends to get used a lot in movies, more so than others. Continues Mental Floss, “Dialing 555-2368 will get you the Ghostbusters, the hotel room from Memento, Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files, and Jaime Sommers from The Bionic Woman, among others.”

From the Archives1-916-CALL-TURK: Another easter egg phone number.