Hidden Pizza Restaurant reveals not-so-hidden flaws in Yellow Pages’ digital strategy

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Hidden Pizza Restaurant reveals not-so-hidden flaws in Yellow Pages' digital strategy

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Earlier this week, a new pizza restaurant launched in Melbourne that has lit up the social media scene. The twitter-sphere is buzzing with mainly positive wraps. Food and culture blogs have universally given it a big thumbs up.

It’s called Hidden Pizza Restaurant, and by all accounts, it’s a pretty exceptional place with sustainable design, delicious pizza, tasty homemade lemonade and a line stretching waaaaaaay out the door (the kind that makes you feel like you’re one of the ‘in-crowd’).

And, oh yeah, the pizza is free.

But here’s the catch. It’s only around for two weeks, closing on April 25. And it’s a bit tricky to find the place.

Here are some typical tweets:

If this campaign was about promoting the restaurant itself (perhaps sans the 2-week tenure) you would have to give it a pretty high mark.

If it were to promote a pizza sauce, or a cheese brand or a shop that sells all things pizza related, again, you would be thinking, “That’s some pretty clever marketing.”

In fact, it is not without precedent.

Several years ago, when the Pure Blonde beer launched, its brand-builders did a very similar thing, setting up a hidden beer garden on the border of the CBD and North Melbourne.

It was a smashing success and an early example of the power of viral marketing in a pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook, pre-Foursquare age. (Well, Facebook was around but it was back in the days before it became mainstream.)

But it was created to do none of these things.

So, who’s behind Hidden Pizza Restaurant?

If you’ve heard of Hidden Pizza, you probably know by now who the promotion is for. It is for Yellow Pages.

If you didn’t know, like me, this is the point where you might start to scratch your head and ask, “Yellow Pages? How does that work?”

The message on the promotion homepage reads:

Finding the restaurant is easy, just look it up the way you would any other business from April 12 – April 25 and the pizzas are free. Make sure you phone ahead to order as no pizza orders are taken at the door.* And get in quick, our restaurant fills up fast.

*Limit one per day.  Melbourne callers only. Subject to availability.

You guessed it. If Yellow Pages has its way, the only way you will possibly find the contact details for this restaurant will be by going to the listing on its website.

But I would love to see the traffic analytics for this promotion. I suspect that it would show that the vast majority of traffic to the Yellow Pages listing comes from Google, Bing or Yahoo (i.e. its competitors).

Let me explain.

The modern web is social. Yellow Pages is not.

Here is a screenshot of one of the worst Facebook Pages most of us will ever come across:

Why has this Fanpage disallowed comments and fan interaction? Because then fans would quickly reveal where the restaurant is hidden, what the phone number is and no-one would head to the Yellow Pages listing. But this is the reality of the modern, social web. (There are not even photos up of patrons having a great time. And we’re onto day four!)

Contrast this to a screenshot of the Foursquare listing, which Yellow Pages has no control over:

Athan D. tells us to bring a jumper! That is extremely valuable information. But, on all evidence, Yellow Pages doesn’t want you to add that value to its conversation.

In case you can’t read those details:

Does Yellow Pages ‘get’ the social nature of search?

Tellingly, here are the Google search results:

Why are these telling? Ranking ahead of the Yellow Pages listing is a blog spilling the beans on the location and phone number. Yesterday, a second blog also ranked higher.

Here is how a typical restaurant search looks in Google:

And a general search for restaurants:

Now, here are the Yellow Pages results:

Did you notice the difference?

The Google results are the embodiment of the modern web. They are user generated and show the semantic links between numerous sources. Information abounds to help you make the right decision.

The Yellow Pages results, in a modern context, are fairly useless. A bunch of listings, but nothing to help you decide. To further illustrate this point, let’s compare them to the results from WOMOW.com, which is a community powered directory and recommendation engine.

Notice the community testimonial under each search result (click the image for full size):


On WOMOW, the community rates and gives feedback on service providers. Just like you might on eBay. Why doesn’t Yellow Pages implement this? Because its search results are available to the highest bidder, regardless of quality.

The modern information paradigm (i.e. the social web and meta data)

This is the simplest of diagrams explaining how information is sought by consumers today, click the image to see it full size (apologies for the crummy quality):

When you lock information down like the Yellow Pages does (especially with the Hidden Restaurant), you are basically trying to break or bypass the modern web. And guess what? It doesn’t work.

The Yellow Pages is struggling enough with web 2.0 (user generated content). Based on this experience, it is simply not going to survive as we transition to web 3.0 (the semantic/social web).

It’s no secret that Google and the social web are the elephants in the room over at the Yellow Pages

This whole campaign reminded me of the Mac vs PC ads. The socialising web and Google are Mac. And, you guessed it, Yellow Pages are PC.

Actually, I’m dumbfounded at the parallels:


Where to for Yellow Pages?

Invest in the product!

What Yellow Pages has done with this campaign is spend (undoubtedly) an enormous amount of money reminding you that it exists. In the process, it has highlighted just how hard it is to find the information you really want on Yellow Pages.

A basic search for Hidden Restaurant will bring up alternatives to the Yellow Pages in most search engines. This is simply because most search engine ranking systems are heavily influenced by incoming links. And incoming links are driven by the social media, such as Facbook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blog recommendations.

And because, well, most people who get wind of a viral campaign these days head straight to their favourite search engine to see if they can uncover the inside word.

Will Melbourne be sorry to see the Hidden Pizza Restaurant go at the end of two weeks? Most certainly. Will we suddenly believe Yellow Pages is the best way to find the information they’re looking for? Probably not. Indeed, through the process, Yellow Pages may well have demonstrated that it is one of the least effective ways to find information on the web.

It’s time for the Yellow Pages to grow into its new marketplace and build a competitive service that embraces the social and user generated web. More than that, it should aim to use its war chest to become a leader in the evolving web, at the cutting edge. The emergence of augmented reality offers tremendous opportunities for an organisation like Sensis.

It’s time for Yellow Pages to embrace social media, or slip further into obscurity.

Yellow Pages Australia has no Facebook presence. Yellow Pages Australia’s Twitter account (@yellowpages_au) has a paltry 182 followers (almost all of which are other Yellow Pages accounts and employees) and its tweets offer no good reason to follow them. How about creating a #YellowPagesAU tag that people can use to find services on Twitter?

Example Tweet:

“Need a place to eat in Richmond, preferably Italian! #YellowPagesAU”

Example response from @yellowpages_au

“@Lachyw here are 5 great Italian restaurants in Richmond! <link to yellow pages listings>”

Yellow Pages could even find purpose on Foursquare (by dropping tips like confetti).

In short, there is a lot Yellow Pages should be doing. And with its existing strength and reach, the Australian arm of the brand should be aiming to become the leader of the brand’s global strategy. As for this campaign, well as much as we all love delicious, free doughy treats, Hidden Pizza Restaurant does nothing for Sensis. The Yellow Pages is all about providing a local service. But you can no longer provide a useful local service in a digital economy until you think and look global.

Have you heard about the Hidden Restaurant? How was your experience finding it and what did it make you think about Yellow Pages and its place in the modern web? Share your thoughts below.

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