Yellow Pages: The death of a brand product format

Each year I expect that the delivery of my Yellow Pages print directory will surely be the last. I appreciate that at least you can now go online (yes note online!) to request that one is not delivered, but it is an interesting phenomena witnessing the decline of an outmoded product format.

It is not surprising to see references, by online competitors to a recent Yellow Pages Print Directory Attitudes Survey where 58% of Australian’s, if given the option, would choose not to have the Yellow Pages Print Directory delivered to their home (Core Data Research). How big the survey sample is I do not know, but based on the number of directories delivered in my inner city Melbourne suburb of St Kilda that do not seem to make it past the front door step, or are transferred directly to the recycle rubbish, then I suspect the results are some what conservative.

There are many product formats that come and go over time, but what magnifies the Yellow Pages print directory demise is that every time a new directory arrives, you cannot help feel for the impact it is creating on the environment. The number of trees that go into the paper and the emissions expended by all those responsible for delivering the directories adds up to an unnecessary burden on our fragile environment. Add in the efforts in recycling those discarded and all of a sudden you have a brand expression that seems immensely problematic.

One cannot however knock the tenacity of Yellow Pages’ desire to remain in print directories. They are also now producing a smaller format version for in the car. A neat little innovation for those without smart phones, but I would still love to know how many actually make it from the door step to the glove box.

As a brand Yellow Pages would win a lot more points if it had a system of opting in for a directory, rather than the need to opt out. If it devoted its energy to the online space and minimised the sheer wastage, not to mention the visual pollution of discarded directories. Yellow Pages has been a super brand in its time, but it has to reinvent itself. Fast!

Peter Singline
Brand Scientist

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  1. Great post Pete and I think that your idea for households opting for a directory rather than opting out for one is a monty. It will be interesting to see how the Yellow Pages do reinvent themselves as there are many people out there with similar views to yourself, including yours truly.

  2. Damian (Sensis Corporate Affairs)

    You’ll see some fantastic digital products from Yellow Pages this year that will add to our multi-channel portfolio across print, online, voice and mobile services- you’ll also find our Yellow Pages content on search engines and online mapping sites, new devices such as the iPhone, iPad, Android devices, Telstra’s T-Hub and satellite navigation devices.
    I understand that some people prefer not to receive the books but there are many people that rely on them which is why we give people the choice to opt-out. The number of users versus the proportion of people that have opted-out makes this an appropriate model.
    We take our commitment to sustainability very seriously, the Yellow Pages and White Pages are certified carbon neutral through the Australian Government’s Greenhouse Friendly program.
    The carbon neutrality accounts for the full life cycle of the print and online directories, including the production, use, disposal and distribution.
    Our current Directory Recycling program has also shown some great results, improving from 4% of books being recycled in 1999 to 98% recycled or re-used today. And, the paper in the books contains a minimum of 40% recycled paper fibre, while paper waste generated at our printers and distribution sites is recycled into cardboard packaging, kitty litter and housing insulation.
    Digital is the way of the future but there is still a role for print to play.

  3. While the recycling (downcycling?) and carbon neutral efforts are laudable,
    there’s a key issue that a once great brand asset is moving from convenience to nuisance.
    Environmental credentials are irrelevant when looking at the eyesore of a stack of rotting directories.

    The opt out system is a last resort of a business model that is a dinosaur. Why can you only opt out for three years?
    That Sensis classes everyone who has not opted out as a user is a real insight into the disconnect that exists.

  4. Damian (Sensis Corporate Affairs)

    Derek, the question about 3 yrs is a good one. Essentially, the 3 yr renewal period is based on a national average – 3 yrs is the average frequency that people move residence. When you move residence, your opt out doesn’t move with you hence the need to renew. Kim, as long as the books continue to be relevant for consumers and advertisersn then we’ll still continue to print them. Damian

  5. I hear the comment that the Yellow Pages brand takes its commitment to sustainability seriously, I would be shocked to hear of a large corporation that doesn’t. Having the Yellow Pages and White Pages as certified carbon neutral is tablestakes in today’s market. If the brand was truly serious about the environment then they would have been ahead of the game and already changed to an opt-in system. It is sad to see a brand that once was on the radar with their brilliant ‘not happy Jan ad’ fall so far that every brand experience I have is a negative.

  6. I agree with most of the thoughts above. The fact that the only option is a temporary opt-out – as opposed to an opt-in speaks volumes as a brand gesture for me. For me this is all about keeping the print run as high as possible to command maximum relevance to the market.

  7. Its a numbers game. They sell advertising. Advertisers want max reach and eyeballs. Print numbers or delivered directories suggest a large audience. So I can’t see them going opt-in. Would kill the numbers. And they would have to spend big to educate consumers to opt-in. They’d be better to advertise the opt out option, make it permanent and use this as an opportunity to switch to a digitally delivered service connect with users digitally.

  8. This is reckless printed push advertising, much like the nuisance local newspaper you cannot unsubscribe from. We cancelled delivery for three years … and still got one. I have put signs on our mailbox, no directories, no newspapers. This has not worked. Why isn’t delivery a client choice ? We wrote several emails to sensis pointing out that it should not be up to a business to make up a client’s mind. No replies, no answers. And, of course, garbage night after the last delivery saw recycle bins full of these books. Idiotic and unfair and eco-unfriendly business …. profits before intelligence.

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