Yesterday, I posted about how a yellow pages company in Australia boasted about how 70% of the patrons of a new pizza shop discovered the place through the yellow pages. Of course, that may have had something to do with the flyer distributions and Facebook promotions that told people that the only way they could get the free pizza is if they jumped through ridiculous hoops that no sane business person would ever put in front of customers: They had to go to the yellow pages to find the phone number and address.

Now, that’s pretty ridiculous. But I think this tops it.

Yellow Pages PR flak, Stephanie Hobbs, wrote a column for the popular – and usually credible – search engine marketing website, Search Engine Land, where she cited the Australian pizza giveaway games as if they were somehow a legitimate case study.

Sensis, an Australian Yellow Pages provider, opened a new pizza joint in Melbourne last month called the Hidden Pizza Restaurant. Located in the basement of a nondescript alleyway, the restaurant began handing out flyers in the local area, as well as posting messages on its website and Facebook page, offering a free pizza to anyone willing to “just look it up the way you would any other business.”

So what happened? Over a two week period, more than 8,000 consumers ended up searching and finding the restaurant to claim their free pizza.

And how did they search for it? According to Sensis, about 70% said they located the restaurant’s information by searching one of the company’s various Yellow Pages search offerings, including its print directory (which had just been distributed), its online directory, and search-engine ads placed by their marketing team.

Why did so many people say that they located the restaurant’s information by searching the yellow pages? Because that’s the only place where people could find the information. Notice that it’s not a measure of where they looked FIRST for the information. This is a measure of where they ended up finding the information.

For example, where do you think people who found out about the free pizza offer on Facebook first looked for information? Do you think they put down their laptops or smartphones so they could pick up a yellow pages? Or turn to an online YP site? Of course not. They would have typed in the name of the restaurant into the Google search box on their browsers, which would have brought them to this:

Hidden Pizza Restaurant on Google

And they would have clicked the top link, which would have taken them to the Hidden Pizza website:

Hidden Pizza Restaurant

This assumes that the business has done a horrible job submitting itself to Google Local, which appears to be the case. Had they done that, the phone number and address would likely have appeared in the search results.

Once at the website, assuming they were stupid enough to NOT put their contact information on every page of the site (a surprisingly common oversight on restaurant websites) one would click to the contact page like I did above. The copy on that page is pretty small, so here is what it says:

Finding the restaurant is easy, just look it up the way you would any other business from April 12 – April 25 and the pizzas are free. Make sure you phone ahead to order as no pizza orders are taken at the door.*

Hello!?!?!!??!

People who’ve arrived at that page JUST DID what you asked of them. They looked up business information the way they would any other business in 2010.

Google Trends’ data seems to support this. When I compare the search volume of “Hidden Pizza” vs “Pizza Restaurant” among Australian searchers, the search volume for Hidden Pizza went through the roof during this campaign, which seems to make the case that Google was a popular choice among searchers:

Hidden Pizza vs Pizza Restaurant

Foursquare appears to have also contributed to the skewed results, where a Foursquare user, Ritchie S., tipped off users on what number they need to call in order to pretend they found out about the restaurant through the Yellow Pages.

Foursquare Tips on Hidden Restaurant

That’s one of the challenges with call tracking these days. Numbers don’t always stay put.

Emily N. and Ritchie S. went on to explain in additional tips that the restaurant is essentially a big yellow pages ad inside, and that patrons will be used as props in exchange for free pizza:

Foursquare Tips on Hidden Restaurant

So, why do I care enough about this to write about it twice (so far)? Because I hate seeing local businesses mislead about what forms of advertising actually work in 2010. Running a business is difficult enough when you have good information. Advertising “case studies” like this muddy the water at a time when determining an appropriate marketing mix is already tough enough.