Loss-making Yell becomes hibu in Landor makeover

Yellow Pages owner Yell has just changed its name to hibu, to the corporate fanfare of a £1.4bn annual loss.

If you want to draw attention to the fact that you are a loser, this is the way to do it in style. Don’t just disappoint your shareholders, really get their hackles up by spending yet more of their money on a makeover that will involve changing everything down to the last dot on letterheads and corporate literature.

It’s the kind of thing that gives rebranding a really bad name. The corporate equivalent of a crooked car dealer pushing a cut-and-shut write-off through the body shop, in the belief that some mug out there will buy the flashy new paint job.

So why do it? Mike Pocock, Yell’s chief executive, claims to have a cunning plan. He’s actually proud of the fact that Hibu (unlike its predecessor, Yell) is a meaningless word. Yes, readers, unironically he spells it out for us: “high-boo”. As opposed to “low-boo.” Now you know.

Apparently, hibu is going to “connect” with under-25 year olds for whom telephone directories are relics, and while we’re there, let’s not forget “digitally-enabled housewives under 45 who have money to spend.” No, really. Must be the Sid and Doris Bonkers market that satirical magazine Private Eye has made its own.

By way of explanation, Pocock says nonsense words are now very much in vogue: “If you go back 15 to 20 years, Google and Yahoo didn’t mean anything. It’s how you support the brands.”

You couldn’t make it up, could you? Please, Mike, stop digging and throw the spade away. Google and Yahoo may have been nonsense words, but they represented thriving new businesses that earned the right to use a neologism. Not so for tired old Yell, shackled to its Yellow Pages print platform. The best place for nonsense words is in the poetry of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll.

WPP’s Landor, who dreamt up ‘hibu,’ (design firms don’t do capital letters these days) must be laughing all the way to the bank. Now comes the expensive advertising campaign to let Sid and Doris know they are being targeted.

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About Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith is one of the most incisive and knowledgeable commentators on global marketing. He was a long-time editor of Marketing Week during the period when it was the UK's leading marketing, media and advertising specialist publication. Visit Stuart Smith Blog.