Andrew Mickel’s Big Idea: the Yellow Pages

The Book thinks that cakemakers from Redcar and yoga therapists from Oswestry are going to make people remember they exist. Andrew thinks otherwise

If you need to get hold of a business number then odds are you will type it into Google. If your computer isn’t working, then there’s 118 118. Don’t fancy the phone charges? Then ask your friends, one of them will probably have the number for whatever it is you are looking for (Remember, it’s G-E-N-I-T-O Urinary).

What you probably haven’t done since the early nineties is look it up in the Yellow Pages. First you have to take off the cellophane wrapping that it thudded through your door in nine months ago. Then you have to work through the mind-numbing logic that pieced together the section titles of Stoves and Fascias & Soffits, but forgot to create sections for Vermin Control or Photocopying.

Eventually, you give up and look in Thomson, the Yellow Pages competitor that every year offers up a comparatively tiny effort of well under a thousand pages, because they were busy messing about with their pets and some food dye. By this point, the leak in your bathroom that you needed an emergency plumber for three hours ago has carried all your possessions and family away into a nearby drainage ditch.

Still, Yellow Pages used to be grand at doing adverts. And not just the Fly Fishing saga, or that one with the little kid stacking them up (who owns four copies of the Yellow Pages? Did he steal some from the neighbours?) to kiss a comatose upright girl. There were quality ads from here to Timbuktu. Entire episodes of Tarrant on TV could be chubbed up with New Zealanders forgetting to place their listings and hilariously getting yelled at by the boss.

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At some point at Yellow Pages UK, though, the laughter died. Now clumps of local industry competitors from places you know nothing about pile on screen to heartily wish you enjoy our movie, as part of Yellow Pages efforts ‘to the people behind the numbers’. Here they come: cat-declawers from Battersea, photocopier salesmen from Chesterfield, lab technicians from Lichfied. Gosh, they really are earthy.

What was the thinking behind the ad campaign precisely? Were the dog groomers of Totnes feeling dehumanised? Had the public started referring to the roofer by six-digit numbers when asking him if he wanted a cuppa between tiling jobs?

Or, more likely, were they also buying into the regions=homeliness view that I blethered on about with Cadburys last week? Again, Yorkshire seems the worst offender, with the personal trainers from Skipton, Halifax and Bradford (although it is quite funny that it took so many towns from Oop North to find enough personal trainers for one ad) giggling in a car park that they’re ‘honoured’ to wish us a Happy Film.

The ad agency seems to be missing out on creating the most British and potentially hilarious ads on telly, by uniting our love of an innuendo-laden pun with our absurdly-entitled towns and villages. Imagine: “We’re the nuns of Nuneaton”; “We’re the plasterers of Tipsy Hill”; “We’re the waxers of Six Mile Bottom”. In ad history, they could have been the new Smash aliens.

What really grates is that the ad bumpers never, ever fit the film they are being fitted around. Compare them to those Stella equivalents that have been running since the dawn of time. Moody drama? It’s got haunting music. Horror? Creepy visuals. Thigh-slapping comedy? It tells you to get up and make a cup of tea. They certainly never told you to get some bricks while there so you have something to throw at the teaching assistants from Ballymoney.