We see them all the time — hvac ads that have so many typestyles they look like ransom notes. The same ad might contain logos on every available inch and some clever pun. The expensive, quarter-page ad runs and here are the results:


If you’re like many contractors, you spend a lot of time and money on bad ads that get no results when you could be spending the same time and money on ads that produce good results.

A good ad will keep the phones ringing and if your phone doesn’t ring enough, you’re eventually going out of business.

Right and wrong reasons to advertise

Some business owners advertise for the wrong reasons. They feel that all advertising is pretty much the same, therefore any ad will do; or, they don’t know much about advertising and do “what everybody else is doing.”

Some folks hold on to the belief that “you are supposed to advertise.” So they go ahead and advertise with the same enthusiasm and forethought as purchasing trash bags.

Here are some of the reasons hvac contractors waste millions of dollars on ads they think they are supposed to run:

  • They run big Yellow Page ads because they were faced with a tight deadline.

  • They run very unfunny radio humor because the cute salesgirl suggested it.

  • They take out full-page ads in the Little League program because it is cheap.

  • They run manufacturer schlock because they hear, “It worked great in the Oxnard market.”

  • They hastily run a jumble of borrowed mess because business is off.

  • They chunk out a few thousand postcards or letters because their competition does.

I know the reason for these ads and I’ve seen the promotions. Dropping business cards from an airplane would be as effective — and a heck of a lot cheaper.

Independant hvac contractors are now playing ball with consolidators, who will choose a variety of weapons across many media in an endless loop of customer development. Those who think that the “same old stuff” is going to work against the consolidators’ marketing muscle are sadly mistaken.

That same old stuff is going to look and perform even worse. But there is a way to stay in the game — as long as you can tell the difference between a good ad and a bad ad.

The nine deadly sins of bad ads

Bad ads start off with good intentions. Somewhere along the way, a variety of marketing sins are committed, and the resulting ads stray into promotional purgatory.

Here are the sins:

1. Multiple angles of sale — Too many services and product combinations are squeezed into the ad, because the contractor believes he can service everyone (wrong).

2. No “point of interest” — No one is interested in a boring headline. “Come get real savings on really great equipment” makes me reach for the No-Doz®.

3. Too many logos, identifiers — This is an attempt to get the reader to think you are successful because you are affiliated with so many brand names (faulty logic).

4. Weak premise — Asking “Are you hot” or “Are you cold” is like asking an insomniac, “Are you sleepy”; it is trite and overused.

5. Misunderstood message — If there is no clear path for understanding an ad after 5 sec, overexposed consumers really don’t have time to figure out your message.

6. Buzzword overkill — “14 SEER,” “variable-speed blowers,” and “HEPA filtration” are meaningless jargon to consumers. They prefer plain English and why any of these descriptions really matter.

7. Features without benefits — Don’t tell me you’ve got Cooper coils unless you tell me how I’m supposed to benefit by that.

8. “Us” instead of “you” — “We’re the fastest” or “We’re the best” is the sign of a self-impressed company. Customers want to know, “What’s in it for me?”

9. No “call to action” — You’ve failed to zero-in on the reason a prospect is reading your ad. Give clear instructions what they are supposed to do during or after the read (or hear) your ad.

Good ads and the 11 points of success

There are many good ads out there that underperform for many reasons. Some are run in the wrong place and get bad results. It could be the wrong time of year. The ad could generate a lot of inquiries, but no follow-up.

Not many marketers or copywriters are deft enough to pick out a winner until it has been proven to work. We’ve spent more than $600,000 testing ads, and although it may be costly to test, it is more costly not to test.

With that in mind, here are 11 cornerstones for profitable advertising:

1. Compelling headline — Your opener and graphics must speak directly to a prospect’s needs (i.e., an “end of season special” or a financing opportunity).

2. Focus on a lack, problem, or fear — These concerns can only be experienced by a prospect, and this is your ad’s method of identifying with your prospect’s needs.

3. Propose a solution — You must tell your prospect how they can overcome the purported problem through your company.

4. Tell features and benefits — Tell the benefits in customer language. “This 14-SEER unit means you not only stay more comfortable, but it saves you money each month.”

5. Give value beyond expectations — Build high value right up to your call for action, then go beyond with a “bonus” or “bullet point” to reinforce.

6. Use “power words” — “Free,” “improved,” “better,” etc., are powerful words, but you must build up value around them. “Your life-saving carbon monoxide test is free with every tune up.”

7. Avoid overuse of negative words — “Us,” “we,” “never,” “don’t,” etc., in limited usage is fine; braggadocio is not.

8. Guarantees are powerful — Get creative; think of energy savings, “labor included,” extended warranties, comfort guarantees, etc.

9. Ask a small favor — People expect to be sold but not overwhelmed. Use fewer words for your messages and you will get better results.

10. Call to action — A prospect must be given valid and persuasive reasons to respond, and told why he should respond.

11. Sense of urgency — Tell your prospect there is risk in waiting. “Now” is when the action is to take place.

Have fun generating sales, customers, and profits through better advertising.