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Deconstructing contractor ads


Recently, life provided me with the perfect opportunity to do just this, as I am remodeling two bathrooms in my house. I always receive the requisite ad flyers in my mailbox daily, and I decided to break them open for a change, and take a look.

It was my lucky day—the junk mail fairy had been generous, and I had not one, not two, but three advertising circulars. Now, I have to admit, these advertisers have an uphill battle. Not everyone out there is like me, pouring over every page looking for bathroom contractors. However, they deliver these things consistently. Consistency is the holy grail of direct mail, so they have a high chance of reaching an individual like me on the exact day I am looking for a particular service. I couldn’t decide if it was my lucky day or their lucky day. Either way, I was appreciative that I didn’t have scour the Yellow Pages for phone numbers, or beat up my friends for referrals.

After flipping through each and every page—and convincing my husband that I had not gone off the deep end—I ended up with 11 general contractor advertisements related to my remodeling project. I decided to lay them all out on the kitchen table to see what was the most engaging.

My background as a graphic designer seriously skewed my first observation. I was simply drawn to the ones where the information was clearly presented. Since I had 11 ads, any one that wasn’t crammed to the gills with text immediately stood out. I could read it, and read it I did. I set aside 9 of the 11 ads which passed the ‘easy to read’ test.

The next criteria—does the ad generate enough interest for me to take action? I found that ads which used actual pictures made a huge impact on my decisions. The two ads that contained little design and photography got tossed. “These can’t possibly help me…how can I tell they know what they are doing?” I asked myself.

Another bonus was insurance and contractor IDs. As much as I used to fight placing these items on collateral I would personally design, the value suddenly became crystal clear. (I make a mental note to not fight this request at my job in the future.) Just as my clients said…their inclusion does made the ads feel more credible. I don’t particularly know what to do with these two little numbers, or how they can prevent my contractor from blowing up my plumbing, but they feel reassuring. I pitched all ads which didn’t contain these golden nuggets. I’m down to 5.

Now, what about coupons? Bathroom remodeling costs add up fast, so I’m up for all the help I can get. (Although, I fight wondering if they just mark up their original prices to magically equal the amount of the coupon. I let the thought pass.) All of my remaining ads have coupons. Hmmm. A wash. However, four of the ads used a simple technique of ‘highlighting’ their best benefits. They also had ‘free estimate’ highlighted. I love the fact that someone took the time to make the best information easy to find. Save.

Ok, now it’s time to get picky. Some of the ads made better use of their 4-color printing than others. Several used similar colors, which I found confusing. I wondered if they were the same company. I wondered if they were related companies. The contractors which stuck to a unique color scheme ended up being my two top choices. And it was apparent that they were aware of what the competition was using. There was no question in my mind that my top two choices were independent companies. And, being a designer, I was a total sucker for their good logos. The lesson here: Make sure you don’t look like your competition unless you want to be lumped together with them!

So, I ended up with two top choices and one backup…based purely on ad design. This probably isn’t the safest way to hire a bathroom contractor, but with my busy schedule, it will have to do. And, after my hour spent reviewing ads, I’m feeling pretty good about my options. The ad design definitely set my top three ads apart. From using a good logo to appropriate photography, from consistent messaging to on-target offers…they all added up to help them rise above the clutter. And if the contractor secures my bathroom job, the dollars they spent to create a good ad will pay off.

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