Monday, January 10, 2011

Yellow Pages, RIP?

The Seattle City Council has passed an ordinance creating a “Yellow Pages Opt-Out System.” Once put into operation, this system will give city residents the option of declining delivery of once-ubiquitous telephone directories. No more phone books crammed into the mailbox or piled at the end of the driveway.

While the aim of the ordinance may have been to reduce environmental impact and clutter, there is a much deeper message here: the people of Seattle don’t need their phone books anymore.

Remember Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk,who danced about wildly shouting, “The new phone books are here!”? We really did used to get excited when the thick yellow books were dropped off. That’s how large a part of everybody’s life the Yellow Pages were. No more.

This does not bode well for those stubborn traditionalist businesses that dedicate large chunks of their marketing budget to phone book ads. I have been in the marketing game long enough to remember ad agencies that worked exclusively on phone book campaigns.

Why do the residents of Seattle feel comfortable in rejecting this traditional part of every home’s informational system? Think about it. When was the last time you reached for a phone book to look up information on a business? The first option now is to simply Google the company or conduct an on-line search for similar providers.

I have long argued with clients who continued to sink money into Yellow Pages that the only businesses that needed to advertise there were auto glass companies, plumbers, pizza parlors and personal injury attorneys. Today, even those stalwarts are better served investing in a website with strong SEO.

As has happened with so many trends that sweep across the nation, I believe that Seattle is leading the way. I think the days are numbered for Yellow Page directories across the country. Don’t forget, Starbucks got its start in Seattle, too.

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