Eating all the alphabet soup in industry ads
For many HVAC contractors, this should be the start of the busy season.
June means temperatures in much of the United States are hot enough that homeowners and businesses start to demand that their air-conditioning works.
Here in the Detroit area where Snips is based, I'm starting to see more ads from HVAC contractors telling homeowners to get their systems ready for our (hopefully) warm summer. Many times, when I see ads from HVAC contractors, I'm reminded of what marketing expert Adams Hudson says about most HVAC advertisements, especially consumer-oriented ones: They don't work.
Almost every year at the Air Conditioning Contractors of America's annual convention, Hudson hosts one or more seminars for members on what's wrong with their advertising programs. He's especially critical of Yellow Pages ads, saying they're filled with clichéd drawings of polar bears, ice and sunshine that long ago lost their effectiveness, if they ever worked.
A quick look at the ads in any phone book or the fliers that most people receive in their mail will confirm many of Hudson's opinions.
Lately, I've also noticed a trend in contractor advertisements that I haven't heard Hudson address, although maybe he has. I've seen several residential-service companies note that their technicians are "NATE certified." As many people in the air-conditioning industry know, NATE stands for North American Technician Excellence, an independent nonprofit organization that tests and accredits HVAC service personnel. The program does good work and has added a level of professionalism to the industry, by all accounts.
Huh?However, I'm not so sure putting "NATE certified" in your advertisements, without any explanation, is a good idea. I can certainly see why contractors are proud enough to promote that their employees have the training, but most consumers, I bet, haven't the slightest idea who or what NATE is.
As an editor, I'm always removing acronyms - words formed from the first letters of other words - from Snips' stories, or at least explaining what they mean. Studies show that while acronyms are common because they work as shorthand for people familiar with the longer phrase, they actually make articles more difficult to read. The reader has to mentally "back up" and remember the full phrase to understand what the author meant.
When an acronym such as NATE is used in an advertisement, especially one aimed at homeowners, they typically skip over it, since they have no idea what it means. Acronyms are only impressive to people who already have a deep understanding of an industry. It's the same with doctors and other professionals for whom continuing education is part of their jobs. Many join professional associations which gives them the right to put long acronyms such as "FAODS," etc., after their names. I see these in advertisements and shake my head. I know most patients have no idea what they mean. I doubt many people pick doctors based on how many letters they have after their name.
I'm not saying contractors shouldn't use the fact their staff is NATE approved in their ads; just make sure homeowners know something of what it's about. It may be tough when you're paying by the word, but even saying North American Technician Excellence tells readers far more than just an N, A, T and E.
On a different subject, I recently received another call from a reader looking for a tool. Jerry White of AC Corp. in Winston-Salem, N.C., says he's looking for a "B Line" brand 21-ounce sheet metal hammer with a wooden handle. White said he spent a good deal of time on the Internet looking for one, but couldn't find any information. Readers, I know many of you know where to find obscure tools. If you know where to find a hammer that fits White's description, write me at BNP Media, Snips magazine, 2401 W. Big Beaver Road, Suite 700, Troy, MI 48084. You can also e-mail me at email@example.com. If any readers respond, I'll report on it in a future column.