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Yellow Page Advertising Strategies

Updated on October 18, 2011

Yellow Pages Advertising has to be a Part of an Overall Advertising Strategy

Following its invention and introduction, the telephone became an immediate success with consumers.

As more and more people subscribed to telephone service, telephone companies were forced to begin using numbers, rather than people's names in order to direct calls.

This use of telephone numbers gave rise to a need for directories listing people's phone numbers next to their names.

Since businesses, as well as households, used telephones, it was only a matter of time before some enterprising entrepreneur decided to make money by charging businesses to advertise their business and telephone number in a phone directory.

Local Telephone Yellow Pages
Local Telephone Yellow Pages | Source

In the Beginning

The Yellow Pages began when a printer named Reuben H. Donnelley published a directory, using the same white paper as regular telephone subscriber directories, published, in 1886, a directory of classified ads for business that had telephones.

The directory proved popular and soon the Donnelley publishing company and local phone companies began publishing directories of classified business ads along with their regular telephone subscriber directories.

Somewhere along the line the classified ad phone directories began using yellow, rather than white, paper (there are various conflicting accounts as to how this came about) and the Yellow Pages became a branded product that proved to be highly profitable for both the Donnelley company and local phone companies for most of the next century.

Unlike the regular subscriber telephone directories in which all subscribes are listed alphabetically and usually not charged for the listing (business that want their names to stand out can, for a fee, have their name listed in boldface type and individuals who do not wish to be listed can, for a fee, have their listing omitted), Yellow Page listings are a service for which businesses are required to pay. Even if a company merely wants a simple White Pages style entry in the Yellow Page directory with just the business name and phone number, they will usually be charged. However, a business can have more than just a simple name and number as the Yellow Pages are more than a directory of local businesses. The Yellow Pages is really an organized book of ads for businesses.

Page with individual listings and small ads.  Note the four columns.
Page with individual listings and small ads. Note the four columns.
Full Page Yellow Pages ad
Full Page Yellow Pages ad

Yellow Page Advertising Strategies

As any good Yellow Pages sales representative will tell you, Yellow Page advertising, to be effective, must be part of an overall advertising strategy. Consumers generally use the Yellow Pages in two ways. The first is to find a business by looking under the classification of the product or service they want. A couple from out of town wants to go out to dinner but doesn't know where, so they look for one nearby under the Restaurants classification in the Yellow Pages. A second way people use the Yellow Pages is to check the telephone number and/or address of a business they have heard about through other advertising. A consumer suddenly has a need for a product or service and either remembers a name from an ad she has seen or heard or knows that she will recognize the name if she sees it. So she goes to the Yellow Pages, thumbs to the section for that product or service and calls or visits the company she is looking for.

Another part of a Yellow Pages advertising strategy is positioning. In the case of a restaurant in the first example above, a Chinese restaurant would want to be listed under Restaurants in order to be seen by people, like the couple in the example above, who are simply looking for a place to eat close by. However, this Chinese restaurant might also want to be included in additional sub-sections of the Restaurants category such as Chinese Restaurants, Foreign Cuisine, Oriental Restaurants. If they also offer take-out food the owners might want to be listed under Take-out Food, Fast Food, or similar sub-classifications. When you think about it, this is basically the off line or pre-Internet version of key words for search engines. Just as web page developers seek to include key words that a consumer doing a search might use to find their product or service and include these key words in the text and/or the meta tags, people planning Yellow Page advertising have to think in terms of business classification categories in order to be certain that their company will be seen by prospective customers regardless of how the customer decides to search for them in the directory.

Because a company's competitors not only have the opportunity to advertise in the Yellow Pages, but those who elect to will also appear in alphabetical order under the same classification as your company, it is important to try to stand out. A well known and popular brand can sometimes get away with a simple listing in one or more relevant categories provided they are certain that people will use the Yellow Pages to look for their specific company. However, for companies which are not household names or whose product or services are commodity type goods which tend to be the same regardless of the firm from which they are purchased, there is a need to stand out. The first way is to use simple boldface type which, assuming their competitors opt for the less expensive standard type, will serve the purpose of drawing the consumer's eye to their ad. Of course, if competitor's do the same thing then those who wish to stand out from the crowd are forced to expand their presence by including their listing within an ad. Ads are generally sold by the column inch. Since the pages of most Yellow Page directories consist of four, 2-inch columns this works out to an ad ranging from 1 or more inches high and two inches wide. Those desiring wider ads can purchase a section of the page, generally starting at an eighth or quarter page and going up to a full page for their ad. For additional fees, graphic images (including photographs) and color can be added. Generally companies use ads to stand out from the competition and/or provide information to the customer explaining either the product/service and/or why their product/service is superior to that of the competition. Again, there are strategies that can be used to minimize the cost of these ads while maximizing the exposure. Here the strategy is to use one ad, or one large ad, in the classification where most people will be expected to look and then simply ad a phrase to the firm's listings in the other sections instructing customers to See our ad on page ---.

Finally, when planning advertising, companies should put their Yellow Page ads in place and then, when preparing advertising for other media be sure to include a phrase See our ad in the Yellow Pages under [enter classification name here]. In this way, instead of having to remember or write down the advertiser's contact information, which most people will neglect to do, the customer simply has to remember the name to look up in the Yellow Pages.

Yellow Pages
Yellow Pages | Source

Yellow Pages Change with the Times

The deregulation of the telephone industry in the 1980s and the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web beginning in the 1990s resulted in changes in the Yellow Pages. First, courts ruled that telephone companies no longer had a monopoly on the publishing of Yellow Page directories. This brought competition in the form of multiple publisher's of Yellow Page directories. Consumers were now receiving multiple Yellow Page directories and businesses were faced with the cost of having to advertise in multiple directories as well as multiple classifications in each directory. Of course, this competition also resulted in a decline in the cost of listing and advertising in each directory. Since some vendor's directories tend to be more widely used than others, companies tend to list in the major directories and divide their purchase of the more expensive ads among directories according to price and where they will have the greatest impact.

A further challenge has come from the Internet where some vendors have been publishing both a paper version and an Internet version of their directory and often charging an additional fee for listing in the Internet version along with the paper version. Also, there are a number of Internet only directories that use the name Yellow Pages and provide the same service on the Internet as their paper based cousins provide. While growing, these enterprises have to contend with competition from both traditional paper Yellow Page directories and outfits like Google which offer similar business locater services on the Internet.


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      get senuke 6 years ago

      Yellow pages is still effective for local searches, however google local is quickly taking over from yellow pages. Thank you for sharing your tips, you have addressed exactly what I was looking for.

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      Yellow Pages Kolkata 6 years ago

      Yellow Pages is handy book to find all businesses. Almost every one needs it as it has information of every kind of businesses.

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      advertising strategy 8 years ago

      nice article, i agree that yellow pages is one of strategy to promoting our product, yellow pages is effective when we promoting in local area, when we need more coverage area i think internet is the best media to advertis.

      keep share. :)