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The Complete History of “Not Happy Jan” the Yellow Pages TV Commercial

One of Australia’s most memorable TV ads, “Not Happy Jan” ran from 2000 to 2003 for Telstra’s Yellow Pages.

Not Happy Jan Ad Breakdown

This classic Australia TV commercial shows a businesswoman sitting at her desk with the latest Yellow Pages business directories on her desk. She excitedly opens up the book and starts looking for her company which would have been listed alphabetically by business name within her chosen category, perhaps with some larger fonts or other up-sell to make them stand out against the competition.

Deborah Kennedy sitting at a desk about to open the Yellow Pages in the Not Happy Jan Commercial

To her horror, it is nowhere to be found. This is how I picture someone looks discovering they’ve been hit by a Google update or finds out their Google Ads budget has run out.

“Jan? Jan! Where’s our ad in the Yellow Pages Directory”

It then cuts to Jan as she walks through office and realizes her forgetfulness may have just cost her her career.

Jan knows her career is over

Jan turns around and starts walking in the opposite direction towards the exit and the camera cuts between the boss trying to remain calm whilst Jan is running down the stairwell trying to escape her inevitable wrath.

Jan running down the street because she knows her boss is not happy

Somehow the boss knew that Jan will be making a run for it, I guess Jan messes up critically important tasks regularly and this fight or flight reaction is a regular routine for them. The boss struggles to shove her head out the window to yell the famous line “Not Happy Jan” as Jan runs down the street.

The famous "not happy Jan" window scene from the Yellow Pages commercial

After a split-second of struggle as her head is stuck in the window-frame it cuts to this static frame, allowing the significance of missing out on this year’s Yellow Pages book to sink in.

Closing credits of the ad "Closing Soon" plus their phone number, logo and web URL.

And that’s it.

What was it advertising?

In the time before everyone could simply Google anything in seconds from their smartphone, or just shout “Hey Google where’s the nearest… X” the Yellow Pages Directory was the chunky paper delivered free to your door annually.

Inclusion in these giant books was basically mandatory for your business to be found. I say “Books” plural as it was typically split into two volumes, A-K and L-Z from memory. Your company was listed by category, then location, then by name alphabetically. This lead to far, far too many local businesses names starting with “AAA”.

classic aaa yellow pages business name aarons antenna service

 

This above is the ultimate in Yellow Pages influenced business name, which is, of course, still advertising on the Yellow Pages website.

Cultural Impact

This is one those classic ads where the characters of the ad are so memorable that they become instant classics and completely overshadow the brand they were promoting. There would be kids alive today that weren’t even born whilst the add was airing and have never seen a Yellow Pages directory, but still know of the famous catchphrase “not happy Jan”. Which they usually say when referring to someone who may or may not be called Jan.

Above shows a slightly biased graph of how many people are searching for each “Yellow Pages” and “Not Happy Jan” on YouTube since 2008 (which is as far back as Google trends for YouTube can go). At the time of writing this (May 2019) the advertisement is more popular than the brand. I don’t know what other videos people would be looking for Yellow Pages other than this ad, or perhaps their 1992 “Goggomobil” ad which I’ll have to discuss another time.

Thank you, Jan

This famous piece of Australian advertising history was created by Clemenger BBDO in Melbourne and was written by Tony Greenwood who had originally planned for the ad to be closer to the famous “Here’s Johnny” scene from The Shining. His brief was to convey the frustration of missing the annual deadline for inclusion in the next volume the Yellow Pages.

badly photshopped image of the not happy jan yellow pages commercial mixed with "the shining" movie poster

Whilst researching this, I have read conflicting information about who actually coined the final wording used in the ad. The exact line was not finalised until they had already started filming, with some articles saying Deborah Kennedy made it up herself and others claiming Jan was the name of the receptionist at Greenwood’s osteopath.

Other credits for this ad include art direction by Sarah Barclay, directed by Paul Middleditch, edited by Danny Tait and sound by Barry Stewart.

Why is the line so popular?

Linguist and author of the book “The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage” says that Australians love an understatement and the authenticity of its fragmented delivery.

Not Happy Deborah

Deborah Kennedy, Jan’s angry boss has unfortunately lived to dislike the attention from the catchphrase.

the simpsons meme - say the line - not happy jan

Not a Happy Legacy

Having a famous catchphrase can live to haunt you, and this seemed to happen to Deborah Kennedy who lived to regret and dislike the catchphrase for many years.

 

 

 

What do you think?

Written by Keith

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