Those familiar Yellow Pages remain an advertising medium too valuable to overlook

The earliest advertising was word of mouth - followed no doubt by cave drawings purveying juicy wooly-mammoth steaks.

Driven by the necessity of business to reach ever more discerning customers while competing with the sensory overload of modern life, advertising has become a sophisticated exercise that often boggles the mind.

But when it is time to buy, people still want to know who's selling what they need. And they want to get that information quickly, with minimal fuss, from a source they trust.

How to keep existing customers is relatively straightforward. Savvy motor carriers know what service their regular shippers want and how much they'll pay for it.

Finding new customers is a horse of a different color. Especially in a world in which people move and businesses change hands so often that it's risky to depend on recommendations.

If buyers have no word of mouth to guide them, they're sure to let their fingers do the walking. Yes, in the old but still reliable Yellow Pages. That's a point the Yellow Pages Publishers Assn. (YPPA) hopes is not lost on motor carriers in search of customers.

According to the trade group for directory publishers, the Yellow Pages are nearly as ubiquitous as the telephone. It says 18% of American adults refer to them daily.

And people aren't just looking up butchers, bakers, and dry cleaners. An awful lot of them have trucking in mind. Clint Pollard, YPPA executive vp of marketing, reports that every year over 37 million users reference the "Trucking" listing - making it the 80th (out of 4,200) most-referenced heading in the Yellow Pages.

"Advertising - no matter what the medium - can literally make or break a business," says Pollard. "The Yellow Pages are complete, comprehensive, and easy to use. They allow those in the trucking industry to reach a broad range of consumers quickly and effectively."

If you're sold on Pollard's point, look into the Yellow Pages in your service area. But make sure you get the most out of the ad space you buy.

Speaking to that, Larry Small, YPPA's vp of marketing services, offers fleets some expert advice on creating effective directory ads.

"More than half the time consumers refer to the Yellow Pages," Small advises, "they either have no name or two or more specific business names in mind. As a result, what they see and read in your ad will influence which business they choose."

Here are some "Small" tips on creating ads designed to grab customers:

Overall Design * Draw the reader's eye directly toward the business phone number.

* Vary type size to add interest but avoid distracting typefaces.

* Keep ad uncluttered. Make good use of "yellow" space.

Headlines * "Heads" should be catchy. Write them funny, bold, or as questions.

* Have head act as quick I.D. for your business.

* Highlight most important feature that distinguishes your fleet.

Copy Points * Keep copy to the point. Emphasize benefits of your service.

* Specify areas of specialization and vital information (hours, etc.).

* Make phone number prominent.

Art Work * Illustrate ad with large, graphically pleasing images.

* Use borders strategically - such as a different one than other ads have on that page.

* Break a border with an illustration for added visual impact.

* Color can be used to enhance your ad.

"Although print ads are the most common form of advertising," Small points out, "the Yellow Pages have also gone online." He says the approach to creating ads for these electronic pages is much the same as for the traditional format.

The biggest difference is an even greater need for simplicity, to prevent confusion and download delays that will turn off information seekers.

Small also advises adding links to industry-specific Web sites as a simple way to increase the customer "hits" you score - and to generate good will for your fleet.