The Association of National Advertisers Directory Committee has used a very public method to challenge North American Yellow Pages publishers to do more on research and transparency. The committee issued an “open letter” today urging directory publishers to expand syndicated usage research, commit to audit circulation, end directory extensions, and stop the “forced bundling” of primary and companion directories. The ANA Telephone Directory committee is made up of a who’s who of large national Yellow Pages advertisers, among them ServiceMaster, Allstate, Ford, Enterprise and Domino’s Pizza.
Many of the issues the ANA raised in the open letter are perennial complaints that national advertisers have about directory publishers. And many of the gripes are legitimate. We agree that Yellow Pages needs to be seen as a medium that is measured and accountable. What seems new is the use of an open letter and press release, clearly intending to shame publishers into taking action on their agenda.
However, not all the arguments the ANA uses hold water. For example, the ANA compares directory extensions to a magazine publisher failing to publish an issue and billing the advertiser anyway. While we won’t offer a blanket defense of extensions, this argument ignores the basic differences in the roles the two media play. A directory that sits in the home an extra month is still a useful resource for the homeowner when the washing machine breaks down. A magazine tends to be much more perishable.
We believe syndicated research plays an important role in helping advertisers decide among competing players. However, the real momentum in research should involve more precise call measurement and ROI data. Similarly, calling for circulation audits strikes us as fighting last year’s war. Certainly, publishers should audit their distribution (a more accurate term than circulation), but the ultimate measures of value have to be the number of calls the publishers can generate across all distribution channels — print, online and mobile — and ROI.
The ANA represents a significant portion of Yellow Pages advertising, and its issues need to be heard. However, its open letter might have had more impact had it acknowledged how measurement is changing — from establishing usage share to measuring actual calls and clicks.