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As a writer on Yellow Pages issues, I speak with hundreds of small business people, and very few have positive things to say about their experiences in Yellow Pages advertising. Over $15 billion is spent on Yellow Pages advertising in the United States each year. From what I hear, the common perception is that Yellow Pages advertising is a necessary evil that many businesses are afraid to discontinue.
Advertisers complain of feeling bullied by the phone companies. Getting a straight answer from a Yellow Pages salesperson as to the actual publication date, ad rates, and competition can be a maddening experience.
Paul Venya, owner of TV Plumbing in Santa Monica, Calif., called me asking for advice on an advertising program proposed by a telemarketer. He wanted to assess the real value in placing a large ad in the directory, and he wanted to know some ways that would make his ad stand out from the competition.
Pick The Best AdI invited the readers of the Yellow Pages Commando News to create a full-page ad for TV Plumbing. Thirty-eight ad designers submitted ads for the contest. Then I invited the general public for their input. Seven hundred eleven people voted on the ads that they would call first, second, and third. I also interviewed several experts including Steve Pollyea, vice president of marketing at Roto Rooter Services Corp., who oversees upwards of $30 million in Yellow Pages advertising.
I compiled the results into a downloadable book that really delves into designing an ad that works and understanding which directories an advertiser should support. Here is a summary of my findings.
First of all, if there is one glaring lesson from this exercise, it is that humor does not make the phone ring. The consumer using the Yellow Pages is looking for a solution to a problem. In other media, humor works to distract the audience and divert attention. The Yellow Pages is a reference book similar to an encyclopedia. If the information and content of your ad would be inappropriate in the encyclopedia, it doesn't belong in the Yellow Pages.
I should point out that only one person out of 711 voters selected all three ads in the winning order, and only seven others selected all three winning ads in any order. That just goes to show you that we can look at trends, but individuals differ on what they find appealing.
Every ad received some votes, even if it was just the designer and his mother. To weigh the votes, first-place votes counted for 3 points, second-place votes received 2 points, and third-place votes received 1 point. Many voters included honorable mention selections, but these were not considered in the vote totals.
The Top DrawsHere are some of the comments made.
Ad #020 - First Place
Ad #030 - Second Place
Ad #001 - Third Place
Elements For Great Yellow Pages AdsThis entire report on great Yellow Pages ad design can be condensed into a single statement. I call this the Golden Rule of Yellow Pages advertising. Successful ads make a customer feel that "This company really cares about serving me."
Conversely, less successful ads focus on the advertiser, not on the customer. It seems simple, but look through any directory, and you will find thousands of ads that violate the golden rule.
Here is some advice from the experts and industry research:
Dick Larkin publishes the Yellow Pages Commando News, an electronic newsletter covering small business marketing. Visit www.ypcommando.com.
Publication date: 10/17/2005