The Edge

Richard Northedge takes on corporate finance

Yellow Pages should stick to finding numbers, not names

Yell Group plc’s (LON:YELL) share price has fallen from 500p to 1.75p over five years. The Yellow Pages group’s losses exceed £2bn in that period. Turnover is down from £2bn to £1.6bn a year. Debts are £2.7bn; the stockmarket value just £40m. Changing Yell’s name may look like the only answer. But to Hibu?  Sorry, hibu?

This was once a major brand. Yellow Pages was founded in 1883 and a century later entertained us top quality ads such as JR Hartley seeking his fly-fishing book. “Let your fingers do the walking,” was a catchy jingle. Now its adverts have gone downhill and fewer people advertise in its directories. But if the brand is sickly, killing it cannot be the answer.

Shareholders are to be asked to adopt the hibu name and to apply it to all new products. “What does the brand stand for?” asks Yell’s own website. “The people who help communities thrive,” it answers. And what does hibu stand for? Er, nothing.

The name has already been changed once, of course, by shortening Yellow Pages (or for the Spanish subsidiary, Paginas Amarillas) to Yell. Another transformation, to a meaningless name, looks desperate. Remember Royal Mail’s change to Consignia, British Steel’s to Corus and Price Waterhouse’s one-week flirtation with ‘Monday’.  Or remember that flood of era banks such as egg, marble, IF and goldfish.

The new hibu name will have a blue dot on the ‘i’ and red and green dots on the prongs of the ‘u’. No yellow dots, you’ll notice, so keen is Yell to disown its heritage. This is designer nonsense that is lost on the dwindling band of customers.

“By using bold lower-case typography with soft edges we project a human and approachable company,” explains Yell (sorry, hibu) to anyone still listening. Er, no: you project a company that ought to stop mucking about and concentrate on cutting the debt, boosting revenues and turning in a profit.

5 comments on “Yellow Pages should stick to finding numbers, not names”

  1. Mick says:

    Might be useful if you got your figures right re the debt!

  2. Paul Plant says:

    Great article Richard - spot on! The simple fact that Yell has stopped promoting its own brands and products (including its online properties) is a sure-fire sign that this is a company that has lost its way. The name change is too little too late, and smacks of desperation by a board who neither understand the market they are in, or the customers they purport to serve!

  3. Lee says:

    To whoever had written this piece, please do some research on Yell figures as the figures stated above are wrong. The net debt is now £2.2 bn not 2.7. There is an audio link on Yell Group website which explaines about the new name and how Yellow Pages will still be called the same.

  4. steve says:

    Sorry that article is way wrong!

    Debt is 2.2 billion not 2.7. The loss they made was down to intangables.

    The YELL name is still being kept and used for the print side.

    They launched a new name for the digital side, new products new name. Although the name is a bit crappy!

  5. David says:

    You seem to forget that debt has gone down from over £4b to £2.2 in 3 years. This year it was reduced by £565m. I agree name change is a strange one however only in the UK is online known a Yell, in Spain, USA and South America it comes under different brands. The world is a big place!

    Name has to change globally, why not to something new, remember the feedback and articles written when Twitter was launched, similar people to yourself writing articles slating silly names.

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