Switchboard Launches Ad Campaign

Online business directory Switchboard Inc. is debuting a new ad campaign designed to promote its yellow pages — and ending its media relationship with Viacom’s CBS, in the process.

The upcoming “Electrified” campaign, designed by the Newtown, Penn.-based Garfield Group, aims to describe the Switchboard.com site as the successor to the offline yellow pages, and as a powerful Internet utility.

In keeping with this idea, the ads will use a tagline describing Westboro, Mass.-based Switchboard as “the yellow pages, electrified.”

But while the ads will seek to grab consumers’ attention, the ultimate target is advertisers — who are spending more than $13 billion annually on ads in offline yellow pages, according to research firm Kelsey Group. So by attracting users with a promise of helpful, easy-to-use information, Switchboard is banking that greater numbers of advertisers will follow.

“Our goal is to continue to educate Internet users that when they need to locate a business, product or person, that Switchboard.com is the place to go with easy-to-use interfaces and rich information, offering a compelling alternative to traditional print yellow pages and costly directory assistance calls,” said Elaine Haney, who is vice president of marketing and operations for Switchboard. “The campaign also serves to position Switchboard … as the undisputed leader in the online directory category.”

The ads will appear in about $7.5 million worth of inventory owned by Viacom’s CBS, an investor in Switchboard. The startup received the media through a 1999 agreement, which saw the television network receiving a 32 percent stake in return for $100 million in TV, radio, outdoor and print ad inventory.

During the past year and half, Switchboard used more than $20 million of that inventory running a previous campaign — also designed by The Garfield Group.

“The initial creative was the opening act for Switchboard and the online directory space,” said Garfield Group chief executive Larry Garfield. “The new ads still have a direct message to Internet users, but the creative hits harder in positioning Switchboard as the leader in its category.”

But last month, CBS and Switchboard restructured their agreement — with Viacom relinquishing all but 3 percent of the firm’s ownership, in return for $72.5 million in unused TV advertising inventory. Switchboard executives said that new arrangement would let it work with other advertising partners, and the upcoming ad campaign would burn up the remainder of its CBS inventory.

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