Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers!
Valentine’s Day is symbolized by love, flowers, The Almighty Hallmark, and candy. Specifically chocolate.
I just love chocolate candy.
(This commercial is not about chocolate candy.)
Today’s commercial comes from the archives of YouTubeLand, but before I reveal it, let’s talk about something Not Chocolate. Let’s talk about 900 numbers.
You know ’em, you love ’em, you may have dialed one in your lifetime.
Unless you were me and heard about everyone else facing the consequences of dialing 900 and 976 numbers. In that case, you didn’t call them. You were well-behaved!
These numbers were everywhere when we were kids, and when they weren’t peddling chatting up hot singles and learning their fantasies, they were giving video game tips and allowing your favorite cartoon characters to tell you stories.
If commercials for the former aired at the same time as commercials for the latter, I’d like to know what channel you were watching…or how late you stayed up to see them.
1-900 (or the 900 area code) went into service on January 1, 1971. The first known use of the 900 area code was “Ask Jimmy Carter,” which operated in March 1977 as a means for the American public to call then newly-inaugurated President Jimmy Carter during a nationwide talk radio broadcast, as hosted by Walter Cronkite. This use was free of charge; however, by 1980, the system was restructured by AT&T. Voter polls on newscasts and “Larry the Lobster” on Saturday Night Live (your call determined if he was saved or cooked) are two early uses of that restructured system.
The system had a set price for the first minute, with an additional charge per each additional minute. And you know these numbers took advantage of how long they can keep you on the phone.
Today’s commercial, culled from the aforementioned YouTubeLand archives, comes to us by way of user Rewind Me, combines 900 numbers with licensed cartoon characters and Valentine’s Day.
Coming to us from 1989, this highly-niche 900 number catered to Care Bears fans during the month of Valentine’s Day only. With clips sourced from The Care Bears Movie, which was so 1985.
I know they still had a TV movie and I guess the cartoon was still on, but were the Care Bears relevant by 1989?
I can’t find any information on this, but then again, I had no clue it existed before I searched “Valentine’s Day Commercials 1980s” on YouTube.
So grab your phone, get your parents’ permission, and perfect that Care Bears Stare…or just click play.
Calling the Care Bears Valentine Hotline promised stories of how the Care Bears are preparing for Valentine’s Day, at $2 for the first minute, 45 cents each additional minute. But, get your parents’ permission!!!!
There were two types of 900 numbers in the 1980s – “call count,” which allowed callers to vote (paying for the opportunity, of course), and “information arrangement.” The Care Bears Valentine line was considered “Information Arrangement,” and allowed callers to listen to their favorite characters. By 1987, AT&T was only allowed to charge up to $2 for the first minute – they pocketed $1.35 of the $2 charge, as well as the extra minutes, or toll charges. All of these character/celebrity lines had the 909 prefix (I spotted ones for Freddy Kruger, Paula Abdul, and Bobby Brown).
These services came under heavy regulations, and they’ve pretty much gone the way of the trendiest of nostalgic trends, but for a magical time in the 80s and 90s, you could call New Kids on the Block, get a psychic reading from Dionne Warwick’s Psychic Friends (perhaps they know the way to San Jose?), and get the time.
So, unlike Care Bears, who have made quite a few comebacks in their lifetime (one of which was only a few years after their 1980s heyday), 900 numbers featuring licensed characters are a long-gone memory.
For these two days of love, we go from licensed characters with 900 numbers and stories about cutesy stuff while vying for you dollars, to greeting card companies vying for your dollars. We’ll talk about that tomorrow on Flashback Friday.
Until then, have a great Throwback Thursday!