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Article: Secrets of yellow pages advertising   

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The six secrets of successful
yellow pages advertising


George Demmer

It comes out of nowhere. The annual call from the Yellow Pages sales rep. Suddenly, in a panic, you need to decide what to do with probably your most expensive single ad of the year. How big should it be? Should we use colour? What heading should we be under? What should it say? Can we afford it?

Year after year the Yellow Pages are full of ineffective ads, costing the businesses which placed them thousands of dollars in lost profits. Follow these sure-fire ideas to dramatically increase the results your ad brings.

1. The right size

The right size for your ad depends on two major factors: your budget and your competition.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the larger your ad the more people will read it. This is true, but in the real world, irrelevant. What matters more is everyone elseís ad.

If the other advertisers under your heading all have simple listings or very small ads, the first thing to consider is the possibility that people just donít look in the Yellow Pages for your kind of business. In that case, save your money for more appropriate advertising media. On the other hand, if your category is dominated by companies running full page ads, you had better consider doing likewise if you want to compete effectively. The simple truth is that people will most often look only as far as the largest ad or two in the category. In fact, studies show that in large categories even a name beginning with a letter early in the alphabet can be critical.

This brings us to the second major consideration: your budget. It doesnít much matter if half a dozen companies in your category are running full page ads (at close to $24,000 per year) if your total annual advertising budget is $10,000. The facts of life dictate that you are not going to be getting much business from the Yellow Pages. You now have two choices. Either you can buy the largest ad you can reasonably afford and fill it with outstanding copy (see below), hoping that your unique advantages catch a few browsers. Or, if you know that you have other advertising options which have proven effective in the past, you can keep a minimal presence in the Yellow Pages while putting most of your effort (and budget) into other means.

Whatever your final decision, use the suggestions which follow to make sure your investment pays off.

2. The right colour

The Yellow Pages rep will show you lots of fancy graphs and charts proving the effectiveness of using colour in your ad. Should you believe her?

Yes and no. Most tests done on the effectiveness of colour are based on measuring responses to a page with a single colour ad. All the rest are black. In this situation the results are dramatic. If the Yellow Pages can guarantee your colour ad will also appear on a page with all black ads you should definitely use colour.

Now what if the page your ad was going on had nothing but colour ads? I donít know about you, but I would want a black ad. I guarantee it would draw better than the colour ones.

All things considered I would recommend investing your money in a larger ad before buying colour. If you can afford both, by all means do so.

3. The right look

The look of your ad should accurately represent the identity you want to project to your customers while doing its best to stand out from all the other ads on the page. Here are a few tips.

Use a strong border. It is one of the best methods of standing out.

Do not use reverse type (white - in this case yellow - type on a dark background). It is difficult to read, and does not pull as well as normal type.

Make sure your graphics will reproduce well. Fine lines tend to wash out; use heavier lines in your line art. Photographs need to be simple, clear, and have high contrast.

Donít use cartoons unless you are in the funny business. If you want people to take you seriously, be serious.

Donít make your company name, logo, and phone number the dominant visuals in your ad. People wonít decide to call you because they like your name. (More on this in the next section.) But do make these things clear and legible.

Donít fall for the artistic desire for ďwhite spaceĒ which some people confuse with good advertising. Lots of white space means lots of money wasted. Of course you donít want to clutter your ad, but do fill it with relevant information.

Most of all you want to make sure your ad looks modern, attractive, and classy. If it does, people will think your business is the same way.

4. The right message

Imagine that all the serious prospects for your product or service are gathered in a room. You and every one of your competitors will have a chance to say a few words to them. What will you say?

This is the situation you are in. The Yellow Pages only attracts serious buyers. They are looking in your heading because they want your product. They are ready to buy. They will choose one of the ads in front of them to call. You need to give them the right information so that they will choose your company.

There are a number of tried and true methods for accomplishing this, gathered through years of advertising research. Yet most advertisers ignore this gold mine of information. If you want to succeed, you wonít make that mistake.

The most important thing you can do is give the reader information. Lots of it. Enough to decide that youíre the one to call or visit. Tell them the benefits of dealing with you. Speak to their self-interest. Solve their problem. Show them your reliability, selection, quality, commitment to service.

Find a way to differentiate yourself from your competitors. What is unique about your business? What do you do better than anyone? Focus on these things - and make sure you deliver on your promises.

Tell them everything you do. Parts, service, special orders, house calls, pickup, delivery, free estimates, business hours, instant credit, guarantees. Everything that makes you great.

You must have a strong headline. If you donít, people wont read the rest of your ad. A headline must draw the reader into your ad, promising a benefit, a solution to a problem, information they want. If your headline interests them, they will read the rest of your copy. After all, these are serious buyers.

Speaking of copy, use lots of it. Studies have repeatedly shown that long copy pulls better than short. If someone is genuinely interested in your product or service, they will take the time to read about it. Let them do so and you will get their business.

5. The right way: hire a pro

If you come away from this article only taking one piece of advice, make it this one: Never, never, NEVER, let the Yellow Pages people design your ad. And unless you know you are good at it, donít do it yourself either.

Letting the Yellow Pages design your ad will insure that it looks just like most of the other ads. You will be allowing someone who is doing ten or twenty ads a day, knows nothing about your business, could care less about it, and probably doesnít know much about advertising, design your most expensive and perhaps most important ad. This is not a wise choice.

Often for less than one monthís Yellow Pages ad cost, a good professional can create an ad that will dramatically increase the responses - and sales - your ad will generate. He will work with you, finding out about your business, your clientele, your previous advertising results, what makes your business unique. He will then design an ad that incorporates that information with his knowledge and experience of advertising.

This is an investment which will pay for itself many times over.

6. The right follow-up

The fateful day arrives: the new Yellow Pages directory is delivered. You and your staff excitedly turn to your ad, making sure that it came out right. You check out what the competition is doing. And thatís it! The Yellow Pages finished with for another year.



This is only the beginning. This is when you start planning for next year by carefully tracking the results your ad is producing.

The first thing to do is to make sure that anyone in your company who answers the phone is intimately familiar with your ad. That way they know what questions to expect from callers and how to answer them. One of the best ways to accomplish this - and the other points in this section - is to put a copy of your ad beside the phone, reminding anyone who answers it of the importance of following up.

You also need to ask your callers where they got your number. Only then will you really know just how well your ad is working. And if your business attracts walk-in trade, survey those people as well. Maybe they arenít bothering to call, they just come ready to buy.

Whenever you get a chance, ask the people who are responding to your ad what in particular got them interested. Then you can focus on the most successful selling points of your business in next yearís ad, making it even more successful.


©1995 George Demmer
This article was published in the March 1995 issue of the Ad-Network




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