Sunday, February 7, 2010

Googles' SuperBowl ad takes aim at Yellow Pages' heart

By Tracy Manning
Vice President of Client Services, Berry Network

If anyone was questioning whether Google still sees the Yellow Pages industry as both a threat and an opportunity, Google's 3rd quarter SuperBowl ad Parisian Love should end all speculation.  As hell froze over, Google pulled back its bow and aimed straight for the Yellow Pages industry's heart:  life change events. 

Sunday-night Twitter and Facebook posts were aflutter about the ad, which, through a young man's Google searches, traces his steps as he falls in love while studying abroad and eventually makes a number of large life changes to marry her and start a family.  

To those in the Yellow Pages industry, the Google ad must feel very "back to the future".  After all, that industry has always known that life change events like these are their bread and butter and has been highlighting them in its own advertising efforts for decades.  

Major life changes create the need for investments of the calibre and type that really must be thoroughly researched prior to the buy - not only because of the cost of the item or service, but also because it tends to fall into a realm in which they haven't had prior experience or exposure.  When these situations occur, shoppers find themselves with a pressing need for the most complete and accurate information possible to help them make decisions.

In fact, in the face of the search frenzy and negative media hype surrounding the legacy print Yellow Pages product, recent surveys show that even America's youngest adults still turn to the Yellow Pages more often that you might think when faced with life-changing events such as graduation, renting or buying a first home, getting married, moving, accepting a new job or having a child.  It seems that even with the plethora of search engine options available to them, they are still, at times, finding Yellow Pages the fastest, most accurate road to a savvy purchase.

No question, Google has its gun loaded and has been making its moves towards owning this "life change" local search space for several years - with everything from Google Maps to local video content to the way geo-modifiers are playing heavily in its algorithms.  But Parisian Love is a bold, public statement  - a promise to consumers, even - in the vein of "Dear Yellow Pages:  We are coming to eat your lunch".

The real question is how well Google can truly live up to that promise.  Really, who hasn't at one time conducted a Google search for something you were seeking and come away with inaccurate or incomplete information that did nothing for you but create a feeling incredible frustration?  (And all those who have driven to a business address provided by Google Maps only to find the location closed, say "Aye".)

The Yellow Pages industry and its partners have spent nearly 100 years gathering, databasing and publishing the local business and shopping decision information that consumers most seek when they are ready to make critical life change purchases locally.  Google has shown it understands the importance of building this same repository online, but without feet on the street and face-to-face relationships with the local advertiser, it may take it just a few more years to get there. 
Sure, there's little doubt Google's ad will further ramp up negative media hype for traditional print Yellow Pages industry ... but the industry would do well to also remember that imitation is surely the sincerest form of flattery.