The Yellow Page industry is at a serious crossroads – print still works well for most publishers in rural markets, and digital products both online and mobile are obviously growing in popularity. Some publishers, like the Yell Group, are abandoning any link to “yellow pages” by adopting company names like “hibu” so the look/sound more relevant in this “SoLoMo” advertising world. Add it up, and the industry has the feel at times that it’s just drifting without a clear direction or future. That’s very unsettling to those of us that look to the industry for their living.
So at a time where the industry needs a serious shot in the arm, I have a suggestion — we need to bring back the core brand that made this industry the stalwart it has been for 120+ years or so. I am suggesting we bring back the Yellow Pages “Walking Fingers” logo and begin promoting the heck out of it. But with one key caveat – we should update the message to reflect the value this industry does provide is now in print, online, and mobile formats. No matter the physical platform, your fingers are still doing the walking on your phone, on a keyboard, or through the book.
In the beginning…
To this day, it is still one of the most widely recognized brands out there. Its origins go back to the early 1960s when Henry Alexander, graduated from the Swain School of Design in New Bedford, Massachusetts, began a successful freelance career as an illustrator and commercial designer. Alexander created the first “Walking Fingers” symbol for the New England Telephone Company in 1962.
As all of the Telco publishers were still part of one regulated monopoly – the AT&T Bell System, it only took about a year before AT&T and each of the regional telephone companies that made up the Bell System started using the symbol on their telephone directories. The symbol became instantly recognizable. A new Let Your Fingers Do The Walking campaign ran during the 1970’s. This campaign kicked off the process of raising awareness of Yellow Pages as a brand and introduced the Walking Fingers logo encouraging every American household to “let your fingers do the walking” through the Yellow Pages. Both the symbol and the slogan were seen for years by millions of people in national advertising campaigns.
Ironically, AT&T never consider the originally version with three fingers to be proprietary, and never applied for a trademark on the logo. This was the first of several legal blunders AT&T made regarding trademarks. Later, as various Telco publishers adopted variations of the logo, they then trademarked their versions. Realizing the error of their ways, right before its breakup, the Bell System made one final attempt to apply for a trademark on the original logo, which was denied on the grounds that it “had become a generic indicator of the yellow pages without regard to any particular source.”
In some countries, the familiar “walking fingers” logo is not protected as a trademark and may be used by anyone. In other countries such as Canada, the logo and even the concept of “yellow pages” has been severely restricted to use by just the Telco affiliated publisher.
Let’s try something different…
In the mid-90’s what was then the Yellow Pages Publishers Association (YPPA), had several board members that became concerned that Yellow Pages had lost some of its mojo to other advertising media. In an effort to gain a fresh look, the Association had its publishers members move to a new (trademarked this time) logo with a lightbulb and the tagline, “Get an idea”, instead of the walking fingers.
Unable to achieve any significant traction with the new branding (traction that could be verify through higher sales) the “Get an Idea” campaign was abandoned two years later. The Yellow Pages “Walking Fingers” were back, albeit in a smaller scale, and are still being used by most publishers.
The original symbol and tagline is so deeply ingrained in the minds of American consumers and businesses, and so iconic, that no other symbol of Yellow Pages directories has yet to gain an equivalent status.
What’s old, is new again..
So why should we bring the walking fingers program?
- We are still the one advertising media that connects buyers to sellers. The iconic walking fingers still reflect that core mission of the industry products.
- It’s a logo and tagline you don’t have to explain – most people already get it which makes re-implementing it a lot easier than selling some new concept from scratch.
- For the update part, the messaging should be that we are still using our fingers when we shop, it’s just that sometimes it’s in a book, or on a mobile phone, or on the keyboard to access the internet, or flipping pages on an ipad. But at the end of day the motion is the same.
- We wouldn’t be the first company/industry to reinvent a popular old brand name
- Announcing a return to the walking fingers wouldn’t necessarily requires a huge, expensive new marketing campaign, IF….each publisher agreed to promote it together in their local market.
- A move back to this iconic symbol would generate a local news buzz that allows the industry to tell its story. This type of coverage, better known as “free press”, is something you can’t buy
What do you think? Should we bring the walking fingers back as the generic industry symbol???