AU Yellow Pages Campaign Provokes Incredulity

by Chris Silver Smith

Hidden Pizza - Yellow Pages Marketing Campaign

YPA’s Stephanie Hobbs wrote an article for this week’s Locals Only column at Search Engine Land, and in it she used the recent Hidden Pizza marketing campaign for the Australian Yellow Pages as an example of why local businesses need to take a multi-platform approach to modern advertising. However, Ed Kohler, outspoken critic of yellow pages advertising, took exception to the article in both the comments and on his blog, calling it a “rigged study”.

I earlier critiqued the Hidden Pizza yellow pages campaign myself, finding it unlikely to change consumer behavior, and it may’ve actually pushed consumers in the other direction (away from using yellow pages), if it had any longterm effect on their behavior at all.

Still, I think Ed’s reaction to the SEL article is an overreaction — Stephanie never called the Hidden Pizza campaign a “case study” at all, and she didn’t use it to say that yellow pages alone drove consumers to the restaurant.

My interpretation of the original aim of the Sensis marketing campaign was that they intended to use it to try to win back the hip, modern, young consumer demographic who have forgotten the worth (in yellow pages companies’ eyes at least) of the yellow pages. They were trying very hard to make the Yellow Pages “cool” again.

In some sense, the campaign was a success, because they did indeed get the attention of the younger demographic, and got them engaged. They can point to the numbers of people who looked at the yellow pages entry for the restaurant, and to the numbers who attended the restaurant to get free grub. They can also tout this an overall PR success, since it got so much worldwide attention, and lured so many of us to write about it.

But, my suspicion is that after the original “secret” of the location got out, it was likely transmitted more through word-of-mouth and social media than through yellow pages look-ups. As I pointed out, one of those engaged consumers tried to helpfully correct the problem by adding the restaurant listing to Urbanspoon. Further, I think quite a few people had to be lead to go to the yellow pages, and most of them likely went to the internet yellow pages site for Sensis.

So, my take was that this likely wasn’t the unqualified success story that it was made out to be — I suspect that all those consumers returned to their normal/preferred routines after the campaign, and it likely won’t result in expanding YP loyalty.

Ed’s right in the sense that this tried to push consumers into behaviors unnatural to themselves. If it was a case study, yes, it’d be wrong to cite it as an example of how successful yellow pages are.

Now, Stephanie did try to coopt the campaign and use it as a bit of an example, but she said straight out that consumers look for business info across a wide variety of channels. Her conclusion was that businesses should advertise through multiple platforms, and that yellow pages — both print and online — should be components of the overall whole.

Finally, Ed takes SEL itself to task for reproducing the article. However, this is not particularly fair — SEL provides a platform for reporting upon search industry and marketing news, and they have a number of columns where various non-journalists write articles which are often editorial pieces. They state very clearly that these are of the writers’ opinions, and possibly not that of Search Engine Land itself.

So, while Stephanie clearly stretched a little to make this an example of how yellow pages should be a part of local marketing efforts, she didn’t call it a case study nor present it as a scientific, double-blind, test for whether yellow pages works by itself. Ed is right that this was very unrepresentative of those consumers’ normal behaviors, and if it was a case study it would be terribly stilted for forcing an unnatural scenario. The people who originally created the campaign were trying to promote use of yellow pages, online and print, to a demographic that has migrated away from the traditional directories. Will this be successful, long-term? I don’t think so, but it was a pretty interesting idea.


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3 Responses to “AU Yellow Pages Campaign Provokes Incredulity”

  1. Ed Kohler says:

    Hi Chris. Excellent analysis.

    If Stephanie wanted to write a more respectable piece, she could have mentioned that Sensis went out of their way to achieve the 70% YP sourced traffic she cited. They wouldn’t take walk-in customers at the restaurant. Weren’t in Urbanspoon, on Foursquare, etc.

    When faced with the task of finding the information in common 2010 restaurant directories, many people jumped through the hoops, which goes to those the power of free pizza. People will even step away from Facebook for free pizza.

    Stephanie brings a lot of knowledge about the YP industry to SEL, which is appreciated, but, to me, this story by Stephanie went beyond providing an insider’s perspective to something misleading to local businesses trying to determine an appropriate advertising mix in 2010.

  2. Kenc says:

    @Mr. Ed:

    It really does get your knickers all twisted in a knot doesn’t it Mr. Ed when anyone associated with the print Yellow Pages industry does anything creative to promote their products.

    You just can’t accept the fact the people still do use the print products.

    So who is misleading who?

  3. Ed Kohler says:

    @KenC, I’ve told this this before, but it doesn’t appear to have sunk in yet. I fully support print yellow pages advertising when:

    1. The books are delivered to households who actually plan to use them.

    2. The medium is promoted to small businesses in an honest manner.

    When the yellow pages industry fails either of those two tests, they prove that they don’t care about the communities they work within or their customers.

    Would you be willing to agree that that’s a fair test?