The Impact of Size, Color, and Copy Quantity on Yellow Pages Advertising Effectiveness

By Kelly, Kathleen J.; Hoel, Robert F. | Journal of Small Business Management, October 1991 | Go to article overview
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The Impact of Size, Color, and Copy Quantity on Yellow Pages Advertising Effectiveness

Kelly, Kathleen J., Hoel, Robert F., Journal of Small Business Management


Yellow page advertising has become the leading advertising medium for many small businesses, but there has been surprisingly little independent, scientific research about this ubiquitous communication tool. Previous research has examined trends in dollar expenditures, frequency of consumer usage, and the likelihood of patronage after using the yellow pages. However, relatively little is known about the effectiveness of color, size, length of copy, and other layout variables which are crucial elements of high-impact advertisement.

Despite the absence of independent research on the effectiveness of layout and copy variables, some "conventional wisdom" has emerged concerning yellow page advertising. For example, it is widely believed that yellow page advertisements containing color are more effective than those using only black ink and that "large" yellow page advertisements are more effective than "small" advertisements. These claims appear to be based on a combination of tradition, "expert opinion," and relatively inconclusive research.

For the small business owner, yellow page advertising often consumes a significant portion of the firm's promotional budget. This, combined with the fact that small businesses often do not employ advertising professionals to assist them, makes small businesses vulnerable to overspending for an advertisement which undersells.

The dollar amounts spent on yellow page advertising attests that businesses must be convinced that the advertising medium can deliver customers. In 1987, advertisers spent $830 million on yellow page advertising--an increase from $760 million in 1986 (Gersh 1988). Additionally impressive are usage rates of the yellow pages by consumers. The campaign sponsored by U.S. West Direct claiming it is "the book that gets used" clearly is not an exaggeration. The National Yellow Pages Service Association (NYPSA) reports that almost 77 percent of adults refer to the yellow pages each month. If their figures are accurate, this means 32 million adults use a yellow page directory daily. Of even greater significance is that many users want to purchase products. One independent study indicates that 28.8 percent of all consumers refer to the yellow pages before buying (NYPSA 1988).

The yellow page medium has been largely ignored by independent and academic researchers, and this is unfortunate since "effective advertising guidelines" established for print advertisements (such as newspapers and magazines) cannot be directly applied to the unique characteristics of yellow pages. Much research, for example, has examined the effectiveness of color and the frequency of insertion for print advertising (Lonning 1986). However, many yellow page directories permit only one color in addition to black, (usually red; but more recently blue or green). Likewise, guidelines regarding frequency of running print advertisements are of little value, since yellow page directories are typically issued annually.

As for the "research findings" and guidelines for businesses distributed by several yellow page publishers, many are of questionable reliability. Their claims may or may not be valid, but research supporting the claims is either weak or nonexistent. For example, one claim made by a yellow page publisher is that a large advertisement is 30 times more effective than a small one. Yet nowhere is it documented how the publisher came to this conclusion. The authors of this article wondered if this claim was accurate--or a ploy to sell more yellow page space. This piqued their interest to explore the topic further by conducting an experiment to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the following: (1) a "large" advertisement compared to a "smaller" advertisement, (2) "more" copy compared to "less" copy, and (3) use of the color red. The results of this research are reported here, following a brief description of selected findings from studies on similar topics.

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The Impact of Size, Color, and Copy Quantity on Yellow Pages Advertising Effectiveness


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