Advertising for advertising

Yesterday, I heard an ad on the radio encouraging the listener to use the Brand X yellow pages (as opposed to all those other yellow pages out there). These ads are not uncommon, but this was the first time I really gave them any thought.

What’s happening is really strange, if you think about it. The yellow pages is basically a book of advertisements; the publisher sells ad space to local businesses and gives away the book. In order for those ads to have any value (and hence, generate repeat business for the publisher), people need to look at them. How do you get people to look at them? Advertise the ads, of course. There’s something sort of circular at work here. The radio ad says to me, in so many words “this is an ad that we bought in order to get you to look at ads that we sold, so that we can continue to get good ad rates for the ads that we’ll sell in the future.”

I realize I am oversimplifying a bit, and that there are other ways to look at this, but I find this angle most interesting.