I think I was born a little too late. I glamorize the days of the 50s and 60s when Madison Avenue was bustling with white-shirted, black-suited advertising executives shuffling ad ideas from drawing boards to boardrooms.

Throw in a few three-martini lunches and I’m there. I’m there.

But alas, I wake up, having fallen asleep during one of my favorite movies from that genre, Good Neighbor Sam. One humorous scene from that movie foreshadows the point of my diatribe this week. Jack Lemmon worked for an ad agency that was filming a commercial for Hertz Rent-a-Car.

I’m sure many of you remember the famous ad slogan “Let Hertz put youuuuuu in the driver’s seat.” In the commercial, a businessperson is lowered into the driver’s seat, as if he were flying through space, happily smiling at the camera. Only in the movie, the stunt kept going awry, with the actor banging off the windshield and other parts of the car. When he finally made a safe landing, he looked at the camera and said, “Man, what a great cup of coffee!” Cut! Take 43!

Later, another rental car agency came up with the slogan, “We’re Number Two, but we try harder.” That was Avis, who later changed the text to “We’re Avis, we try harder.”

Cultivating Awareness

So what do 30-year-old car rental commercials have to do with hvacr?

These commercials raised brand awareness. If you had to rent a car, what names came to mind? Hertz and Avis. They still do.

Food in a hurry? McDonalds. Thirsty? Coke. Need copies? Xerox. Clogged drain? Roto-Rooter. Your furnace goes out? Um, well, let me see …um, gee, I don’t really know who to call.

Before I entered the hvacr world three years ago, the only recognizable name in our industry was Dave Lennox. He is still the only recognizable name. This column isn’t a plug for Lennox; rather, it is a story about our industry’s lack of identity, the lack of a brand image.

I’ve met many people in our industry who share the same vision. We agree that hvacr contractors lack an identifiable symbol, or brand. But it’s not for lack of effort.

When American Residential Services (ARS) made its big splash in the consolidation market, they envisioned ARS becoming a household name, associated with heating and air conditioning service and replacement. It didn’t happen. But the intention was good.

Other groups are making solid efforts to market their name and their products to the millions of homeowners and business owners who want and need hvacr services. I have seen regional sales promotions, designed to support local affiliates of national hvacr operating companies. I’ve seen good promotions involving local contractors who have spent a great deal of money to get their name in front of their community. These contractors have used gimmicks to promote the trade at the local level.

However, our industry has yet to come up with a national brand image.

But it’s coming, my friends. There will soon be at least one group that will jump to the head of the pack. Sorry about the cliché, but I truly believe that the first hvacr group — be it an operating group (a former consolidator) or a group of independent contractors — that comes up with a well-planned national brand-awareness campaign will corner the market on residential and light commercial service and replacement.

I’m convinced of it.

And to that I add, “more power to them.” We need a strong brand image, which will elevate our industry into a more professional, organized trade.

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-543-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); halljr@bnp.com (e-mail).