By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
Primetime television advertising is worlds away from the small-budget marketing campaigns that home comfort companies use to attract new business. While companies in our niche struggle just to be noticed, giant advertisers are creating touchstone images and catchphrases that sometimes gain near universal recognition.
A classic case of a television spot transcending the advertising medium is Geico’s “Hump Day” commercial, in which a talking camel traipses through an office badgering co-workers with questions like, “Guess what day it is?” until one of them reluctantly answers, “It’s hump day.” Voice actor Chris Sullivan, as the camel, puts the spot (from The Martin Agency) over the top with his infectious attitude and laughter.
The spot struck such a chord with audiences that “hump day” quickly emerged as a must-say catchphrase repeated millions of times a day across the United States. Camel imitations became so ubiquitous that a Connecticut school district reported disruption from students endlessly making “hump day” references. “Everybody’s walking around in the hallways and saying it’s hump day in that weird voice,” one student at Vernon Center Middle School, in Vernon, Conn., told WFSB News.
No home comfort company is going to make such an imprint on the national consciousness, but we can learn a lot about effective messaging by studying the work of the big budget advertisers.
Another campaign from Geico that offers us lessons is the “Made of Money” series, which emphasizes the cost savings that Geico claims to deliver with its insurance for motorcycles and boats. The ads show a man made of money either riding a motorcycle or piloting a motorboat and leaving a steady stream of dollar bills in his wake as he drives ahead, oblivious to his losses. “Chances are, you’re not made of money, so don’t overpay for motorcycle insurance,” a voiceover says in one of the ads.
The “made of money” message combines powerful imagery and simple language to clearly enunciate one of Geico’s essential themes: We can save you money. Helping customers economize is a core value in home comfort too, so a provider can connect with customers using similar messaging regarding energy efficiency.
It’s interesting to note how Geico segregates its campaigns by theme. The “Hump Day” commercial is part of another series focused on cost savings. In fact, the “punch line” comes at the end of the commercial, when two musicians on a small stage trade these lines: “How happy are customers who save hundreds of dollars by switching to Geico?” “I’d say happier than a camel on Wednesday.” The company’s gecko commercials, featuring a talking gecko voiced by English actor Jake Wood, focus primarily on the convenience of switching to Geico, using the catchphrase “Fifteen minutes can save you 15 percent.”
Breaking your company’s value proposition into separate, simple themes can help you connect more effectively with customers. Rather than trying to say everything you do at one time, you can use simple messages that focus on one value at a time: reducing heating and cooling costs; getting complete home care from one provider; incorporating renewable energy; getting great customer service; and making the home more comfortable.
It’s Not Complicated
Another advertiser whose work has relevance in home comfort is AT&T. The telecom giant’s “It’s not complicated” campaign by BBDO is a great example of establishing a company’s value proposition one point at a time. In these ads, comedic actor Beck Bennett (whose work for AT&T won him a spot in the Saturday Night Live cast) engages in wry conversations with first graders about simple topics, such as whether more is better than less. In one spot, he asks a group seated on the floor around him, “Who thinks more is better than less?” and elicits a long-winded response from a young girl. “More is better than less, because if there’s more less stuff, then you might want to have some more, and your parents just don’t let you because there’s only a little. We want more. We want more. Like, you really like it, you want more.” “I follow you,” Bennett responds. Then a voiceover adds, “It’s not complicated. More is better, and AT&T has the nation’s largest 4G network.”
Saving energy in home comfort is one simple concept that potential customers can easily grasp from your marketing. By driving home simple, powerful themes one at a time the way AT&T does, a home comfort provider can get prospects asking the right questions. Motivating customers by helping them understand one important benefit of making a change is a crucial first step. Without that motivation, they are more likely to maintain their status quo.
Home comfort providers can also draw a helpful lesson from Discover Card’s recent commercials focused on customer service. Several spots show people calling Discover Card customer service and speaking to clones of themselves. “We treat you like you’d treat you,” is the theme. Discover strikes the same theme with its “Peggy” commercial, in which a customer calls “USA Prime Credit” and gets a Russian sounding man in a polar region who answers, “My name is Peggy. What is problem, please?” The caller tries to complain about his annual fee, and “Peggy,” unable to appease him, eventually hangs up. “Better customer service? Switch to Discover,” the voiceover says in conclusion.
By playing up their friendly customer service, a full-service home comfort company can create nice contrast with the local utility – and natural gas. There is fertile ground here to create fun, memorable advertising that contrasts a friendly, independent fuel company effectively with the local utility.
Go for Laughs?
As you have probably noticed, each of the ads I have referenced employs humor to engage the audience. Perhaps you are asking yourself if you should be going for laughs yourself. It’s a complicated question that I’ll address momentarily, but first let’s take a closer look at some humorous ads, which are everywhere.
One of my favorite examples is the Jack Links beef jerky “Messin’ with Sasquatch” series, produced by Carmichael Lynch. In one installment, two golfers see a sasquatch (aka Bigfoot) emerge from the woods near them chasing a bunny. After a moment of shocked surprise, they proceed to “mess with Sasquatch” by shaking up a beer, handing it to him (“Hey, Big Fella. Want a cold one?”) and urging him to open it. He does, gets a stream of beer foam in his face and then chases the golfers as they flee in a cart and knocks over the cart. “Jack Links Jerky. Feed your wild side,” the voiceover says.
Other products that score with humor include Doritos and Old Spice deodorant. For the 2014 Super Bowl, Doritos created the classic “Time Machine” spot in which a kid dupes a gullible neighbor with a bogus time machine that works on Doritos. Old Spice, meanwhile, has been getting laughs for years with its hyperkinetic spots featuring muscle-bound funnyman Terry Crews shouting absurdities about Old Spice shaving products and deodorants.
Who wants to go to those extremes to draw attention to their products? Marketers who want to appeal to young audiences about snack food and deodorant – that’s who. That is a very different target demographic from yours, and the products have little meaning for the buyers. Outlandish humor probably won’t influence homeowners to choose your home comfort services.
Instead of absurd humor, consider using some personality to make your advertising stand out from the crowd. If you or one of your managers is a good talker, it makes sense to use him or her in radio or TV commercials. If they have a regional accent and a way with words that “sounds like home” to potential customers, that’s a nice added benefit. Before you go deep into production with your advertising agency, however, do a few simple tests with a tape recorder to make sure your would-be spokesperson sounds as good as you think they might.
If their personality comes across effectively “on air,” you may have your ideal spokesperson on staff. Of course, you should never rely solely on your own evaluation. Play a test spot for your ad agency as well as for friends that you can trust for honest feedback. Personality in advertising draws attention, but that only works in your favor when the attention is positive. There is a fine line between effectiveness and embarrassment, and you need to make sure you’re on the right side of it. You also need to be certain that your new spokesperson isn’t going to jump ship in the near future.
The creative team at PriMedia would love to help you refine your message and express it in advertisements, websites, promotions and other marketing materials. To get started, please call me at 800-796-3342 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE: You can find links to many of the advertisements mentioned in this article at oilandenergyonline.com/links