The YellowPages, best known for dropping a giant paper brick on your doorstep once a year, are fighting for relevance with a new ad campaign that has taken over Toronto.
Cleverly, the ads do what YellowPages supposedly does best: Give you context-specific information that might be extremely helpful based on where you are. They are not just Toronto-specific, but even neighbourhood specific, such as this example:
Even the subway ads are well-done, pointing to what can be found at different stops:
The ad campaign is actually pretty smart, and it’s fun too, but the problem is this: who actually uses the YellowPages? At my old apartment building in midtown, the books sat piled up in the mailroom for a few weeks until they were finally dumped in the recycling bin by the superintendent. At my new apartment downtown, the building flat out rejects them. I suspect many people have similar experiences. The last time I opened the YellowPages was…I’m not sure. But I can tell you that I still lived with my parents, so it wasn’t any time this decade.
Now, it’s entirely possible, and even likely, that I’m biased by my age. But that’s a big problem. I’m just young enough to barely qualify as a “millenial”, but I just don’t see what the YellowPages has to offer. The book is entirely useless to me, and the webpage is nicely designed, but only offers one feature that I kind of like: Search by Phone Number (aka Reverse Lookup). But with most people my age using mobile phones as their primary line and telemarketers using number spoofing to disguise their calls, this feature’s usefulness drops by the day.
So, in the name of science, I downloaded the YellowPages app onto my phone. The first thing that happened is that it wanted access to a lot of stuff: my user data, my location, my photos, full internet access, device storage – you get the picture. To any app developers out there, this sends up a lot of red flags, but in the interest of the research I installed it anyways. Upon opening the app, I was confronted with a pop-up message, “YellowPages would like to send you push notifications…” Sigh. We’re not off to a good start.
Surprisingly though, the app is actually not too bad. Three big buttons and a search bar adorn the yellow header, allowing you to search specifically by business, person, or phone number (called “reverse” here), or by any terms if you select nothing. Below that, nine buttons allow you to quickly find the nearest coffee bars, restaurants, hotels, banks, etc.
Further down, the app assumes that driving is my primary method of travel (it’s not, I bike everywhere, taking public transit when necessary) and allows me to find the nearest gas stations, service garages, and towing services, and even has a map pre-loaded with the nearest gas stations. Oddly, the app settings only allow you to turn push notifications on and off, there’s no way to change this to the nearest bus stops or subway stations. In fact, you can’t change any of the buttons if, for example, you don’t have any use for a “Beauty salons” quick search. Also, they aren’t arranged alphabetically, but rather seemingly arbitrarily.
But will I ever use the app? At best, it seems to duplicate the functions built into my phone but with some quick keys for some common destinations. And this is the dilemma that the YellowPages faces; finding itself rendered obsolete by technology, it’s struggling to find relevance again. It does show you the current price at the nearest gas station (though I can’t attest to its accuracy), which I suspect is a nice feature for those who drive, but is it enough to sell someone on the app? Frankly, no.
While the campaign is clever, fun, and actually made me think about the YellowPages, I doubt that the brand has any strength with millenials, and unless they can build up stock with this generation they won’t last long. The YellowPages book used to be very useful; I’m old enough to remember that. Unfortunately, a clever ad campaign can’t hide the fact that they don’t have much to offer anymore.