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What my dad taught me about yellow pages advertising

by on
in Business Management

Here’s one Yellow Pages advertising technique that may work for you. Ironically, I learned it from my dad.

I say “ironically” because my father had no interest in advertising or marketing. His expertise was insurance — he was an insurance agent, and he knew the technical aspects of insurance inside and out.

He ran a one-man insurance agency in downtown Paterson using his own name — “F.W. ‘Dave’ Bly Insurance.”     F stood for Fabian, which he hated. Most people who hate their first names go by their middle name — but the “W” in “F.W.” stood for “Wolf,” which he equally despised.

He told me that when he was a kid and he met new kids who asked him his name, he would mumble “Fabe” — short for Fabian — and hope they couldn’t hear him clearly.

One day, another kid replied, “Did you say ‘Dave’?”

“Yeah,” said dad, and from then on he went by Dave — for the rest of his life.

His major means of advertising his agency was an ad in the Yellow Pages.

As a small independent agent in the rather downscale city of Paterson, NJ, where we lived, Dave Bly couldn’t afford the biggest ad on the page — other, larger agencies could always outspend him.

So one year he decided to try something new.

In his small display ad (I can’t remember the exact size), he made the headline “INSURANCE” in large, bold type. Underneath, he had two columns of bullets — a laundry list of all the types of items he could insure for you.

In the list, he focused on items that people frequently asked about but that other insurance agents did not actively pursue: snow mobiles, I recall, were one of the items in his bullet list.

Underneath he had the name of his agency and the phone number.

Well, that bullet list ad was far more successful than any other ad he ever ran, getting him at least one phone call a day from people needing insurance.

They told him they were trying to find insurance for a particular item (like a snow mobile).

So they opened the Yellow Pages to “insurance,” and his ad was the ONLY insurance ad in the book with the word “snowmobiles” in it. So of course they called him first.

Other agents, of course, could also insure snowmobiles and the other items in his bullet list.

But if you want to buy a kiwi fruit, which ad will you respond to — the one that says “fruits” or the one that says “kiwis”?

Consumer Reports used this technique in a recent mailing to sell subscriptions to their magazine.

The magazine rates consumer products in a wide variety of categories for quality. Many people, however, think of Consumer Reports primarily for their new car ratings.

A recent mailing used an oversize envelope. Printed on the outer envelope were the names of dozens of consumer products covered by Consumer Reports — everything from loudspeakers and soy milk, to treadmills and microwave ovens. Literally dozens of different products listed.

Dad never made a fortune as an insurance agent, but he took himself out of poverty (he was a child during the Great Depression) and supported a family of four — and his Yellow Pages ads always paid back their cost  many times over.

He was a patriotic American, but not a rapid capitalist — he felt insurance costs were getting out of control and that the only way to make it affordable to the masses would eventually be to socialize insurance.

He was also old-fashioned: computers came into insurance offices, but by then, he was near the end of his career and refused to learn them, never even touching a PC.

He left the PC work to his assistant, which by that time was my mother — who now has a computer in her office as well as at home.

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