After spending 25 years as a Yellow Page sales consultant, I began to see a trend in the area of Yellow Page headlines. They seemed to fall into three categories. The most prevalent was using the business name, such as “Jerry’s Auto Repair” or “Mary’s Arts and Crafts.” This was fine if Jerry or Mary was a celebrity in town. Then their name might mean something. The second most common headline was the service or goods offered. Examples include, “Complete Plumbing Repair,” “City-wide Towing Services,” or “Family Dentistry.” Of course, if each ad was listed in the proper heading, the viewer already new that they did plumbing, towing or dentistry or they might be under the wrong category. The final headline could be “Save Money, ” “Reliable Service, “20 Years Experience” or “Open Daily.” These are features or benefits that actually belong as copy or bullet points later in the ad. Have you ever used a company simply because they told you they were reliable or experienced, in the headline? No, it takes a bit more imagination than that.

When I was attending advertising college, I was told that the purpose of advertising was to convey a message that enticed the consumer to make a purchase. That message might educated, inform, or challenge the reader into an action, such as a call or visit. Your YP ad is no different. You have a whopping five seconds to attract the reader before they move on to the next ad. And in a competitive heading such as attorneys, plumbers, restaurants, or insurance, it becomes even more critical. With all those full-page ads screaming for attention, how do you get your share? Most sales people might tell you that a large, bold color-filled ad with a huge headline is the right answer, and it might just be. But it also might just be an expensive waste of your money. If you’ve read this far and have a YP ad, you must be wondering where I’m going. It’s really simple. That’s right, as simple as a single word.

Instead of splashing your name or service at the top, why not try something basic. In 1962, Volkswagen was about to introduce a new vehicle, the VW Beetle. They hired Doyle, Dane, and Bernbach, a New York advertising agency to handle the account. That year, they ran a full page ad on the back of section one in the New York Times. It contained just two words that became iconic. It read, “Think Small, with a tiny picture of the car in the bottom right corner. I’m suggesting that you invent a similar phrase that will intrigue the consumer and invite them to read more.

Let me offer a few ideas. “Water Works,” for a plumbing company, “Grand Opening” for a locksmith doing lockouts, “Chill” for air conditioning, “Coverups” for a house painters, “Short-Stops,” for electricians, “Mouse-Traps,” for computer repairs, and so forth. The trick is to grab the reader and make them think. It can be cute, funny or direct and serious. An insurance agent could be the “Health Department” and the plumber could offer “Pipe-Dreams.” I have an entire chapter devoted to headlines in my book titled, “Inside the Yellow Pages,” for sale off my website, or It also has suggestions for many other ways to design effective ads and reduce your costs. And that’s one headline that always gets attention.

Jeffrey Hauser was a sales consultant for the Bell System Yellow Pages for nearly 25 years. He graduated from Pratt Institute with a BFA in Advertising and has a Master’s Degree in teaching. He had his own advertising agency in Scottsdale, Arizona and ran a consulting and design firm, ABC Advertising. He authored a book about his directory years, “Inside the Yellow Pages” which can be seen at his website, and he is officially retired.

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