Billboard Advertising Affects the Bottom Line

October 27, 2008
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“Your Wife is Hot” was the most popular among the respondents to the recent NEWS’ online survey on the effectiveness of billboard advertising.

Many different factors affect a bottom line. Business owners who constantly monitor their P&L statements and compare them to their current budget projections know that it takes continuous tweaking to make bottom line projections.

One such item that needs to be looked at is marketing.

This tweaking comes in many forms, such as making changes to operating procedures or raising prices. If one marketing method has a good success rate, it remains part of the overall budget. But if the method does not produce expected or required results, an owner has many alternatives to explore.

One such alternative, which was an early pioneer in the marketing world, is billboard advertising. What was once made famous by the Burma Shave billboards that graced America’s roadsides from the 1920s to the 1960s is still a popular form of advertising today. Billboard advertising is viable for businesses looking to send a simple visual message that can be read in a matter of seconds, and most billboards are concentrated in heavily populated areas with high traffic flows.

Although four states currently have banned billboard advertising, its popularity has not been diminished by attempts to limit its use. In fact, according to the Traffic Audit Bureau for Media Measurement Inc., “Despite being the oldest form of media, outdoor is changing with the times and is one of only two media (the other being the Internet) currently exhibiting growth at a time when questions are being raised about the measurement of audience delivery in other media.”

The NEWS recently ran an online survey featuring 16 different billboard designs created by HVACR contractors. We asked respondents to pick the three that would be the most eye-catching to a consumer (top three shown). We also asked some follow-up questions about their own use (or non-use) of billboard advertising. A total of 58 respondents participated.

“Licensed to Chill” placed second among voter preferences in the recent NEWS’ online survey on the effectiveness of billboard advertising.

HOW EFFECTIVE IS A BILLBOARD AD?

Most of the respondents felt that billboard advertising is an effective tool (see Figure 1). “In the right location, for the right length of time, with the right message it will be of value,” said Don Walsh of Walsh Mechanical, Youngstown, Ohio.

One contractor felt strongly about billboard advertising because none of his competitors have used it. “In our market, we are the only HVACR company using it and the consumer reach statistics are great for our area,” said Justin McClure of Daflure Heating & Cooling, Harrisburg, Pa.

A lot of contractors talk about “top of mind awareness” (TOMA) and how advertising needs to reinforce a repetitive message about a company and the products or services it offers. Visual reminders from billboards often provide just the right vehicle for this reinforcement.

Top of mind is important, especially when someone needs to call an HVACR contractor for service right away. “It’s constant exposure to the driving public and to those who travel and see it once a day it just might stick when they need air conditioning or heat,” said Michael Curtis of Arctic Air, Palatka, Fla.

Figure 1.

Many contractors look at the cost of billboard advertising, which often takes precedence over its effectiveness. An eye-catching graphic may attract a lot of eyes but at what cost? “If the proper location selection is researched in advance, billboards are a bargain to TV and radio in our market,” said Robert Wilkos of Peaden Air Conditioning, Panama City, Fla.

“Dollars per exposure are very good,” added Craig Jones of Slasor Heating & Cooling, Livonia, Mich.

One contractor sees billboard advertising as inexpensive and good for branding. “It is reasonably priced in our market,” said Read Frymire of Frymire Services Inc., Dallas. “We use outdoor to increase branding, not generate leads.”

Another contractor believes in the power of TOMA, but in his community that comes with a steep price tag. “It is a great tool for top of mind awareness,” said Dennis Mollgaard of Tiger Services in San Antonio, Texas. “But it is very expensive in San Antonio.”

“Indoor Comfort Just a Click Away” was the third most popular choice in the recent NEWS’ online survey on the effectiveness of billboard advertising.

Not all contractors are sold on the power of billboard advertising, with sold being the operative word for Fred Hutchinson of Hutchinson Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, Cherry Hill, N.J. “It is expensive and tough to target the customer you seek.”

To Roger Grochmal of AtlasCare, Oakville, Ontario, there is already too much clutter along the road and the message would just get lost. “There are so many images competing for our eyeballs that another billboard just gets lost in the noise,” he said. “It would have to be the right message in the right location to have an impact.”

Then there are the contractors like Jerad Littlefield of Littlefield Appliance and Duct Cleaning, Rexburg, Idaho, who see the pros and cons of billboard advertising.

“You have to have the right season with the right ad, which can be a bummer every time you have to change it because you have to pay for the printing and installation again,” he said. “We have had two in the past and found that location, location, location is very important.”

Figure 2.

WHAT SHOULD THE MESSAGE BE?

Most people have a split second to read a billboard message, depending on how fast the traffic is flowing. In that short period of time, the visual needs to make an immediate and lasting impact, if only for a few moments. While that is the reason some businesses choose not to advertise on billboards, the message can make a very positive impression if it is quick and to the point. “You only have two seconds, it should leave an impression of the company with a simple, easy-to-remember tag line,” said Joel Wensley of Mechanical Heating & Cooling, Dearborn Heights, Mich.

Grochmal added, “Conventional wisdom says that a billboard should contain seven words or less. That’s all we have time to assimilate as we drive by. It must have a great image and solve a problem for the viewer.”

A picture or photos can be just as effective as words. Buffy Busik of Mountain View Heating, Bend, Ore., isn’t afraid to add a little sexuality to the message, as long as it makes people laugh.

Figure 3.

“I’d love to see how an ad featuring me in my pink hard hat and tool belt saying something like, ‘I get it twice a year’ and in small print add, ‘How often do you maintenance your heating and air conditioning equipment?’ ” she said. “But that’s counting on everyone having a sense of humor.”

The billboard ad can be effective as long as it is designed right. “The message must be brief and powerful,” said Ron Ford of Sierra Air Inc., Reno, Nev. “Most of the ads [in the survey] are way too cluttered. No one will read them. The ad should have something like GOT COOL?? or GOT HEAT?? as a header.”

The message should contain the company name, phone number, and Website, along with a good reason for calling. That’s according to Carla Crafton of AireServ, Brazil, Ind. “The message should include something that catches the eye quickly,” she said. “We advertise low price to get people to call in.”

One contractor said the message should contain three components: confidence, reliability, and professionalism. “If you are trying to use billboards for call to action, the message must be short and sweet,” added Gary Doty of Doty Mechanical, Lansing, Mich.

TO USE OR NOT TO USE

Two of the survey questions asked if respondents had used billboards in their advertising or if they intended to use them in the future. The results were pretty evenly split for both questions. Fifty-three percent said they have used billboard advertising (Figure 2) while 53 percent said they do not intend to use billboard advertising in the future (Figure 3).

Will billboard advertising have an impact on an HVACR contractor’s bottom line? It might - and that is why this contractor is planning to use it. “I am starting to move towards billboards in the right place with the right message,” said Benson Green of Benson’s Heating & Air Conditioning, Tallahassee, Fla. “It is great TOMA.”

FEEDBACK REQUESTED: If you would like to send your billboard graphic in for possible publication in The NEWS, e-mail it to johnhall@achrnews.com or feel free to comment on the billboards shown here.

Publication date: 10/27/2008

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