For decades, television has reached people in their living rooms, and the powerful medium is only growing in popularity. Nielsen Media Research, which tracks the nation’s viewing habits, says the average American watches 4.5 hours of television each day, making it the most popular medium for information and entertainment, and it’s becoming viable for advertisers - both big and not so big - to cost-effectively target their messages and reach large numbers of people.

TV advertising is probably something that few local HVAC contractors have considered because most don’t realize how easy and affordable it can be. The key is to buy airtime that zeroes in on your target demographic and geographic market. TV, more than many other mass-market media, allows businesses to reach specific audiences and neighborhoods. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Ways to target TV advertising

Demographics. Whom are you selling to? What do they look like on paper? In other words, what are their general income levels, ages and educational backgrounds? You may want to advertise on a hip new cable channel, but it won’t do any good if the audience is made up of 15- to 25-year-olds.

Fortunately, you never have to guess what sort of people your ad will reach. Ad agencies, cable companies and network affiliates can provide data on their viewing audiences. Just make sure you take a close look at them.

Channel. TV allows you to attach your company’s name and equipment brands to major media that are trusted sources of information or entertainment. If, as a contractor, you regularly advertise locally on cable network HGTV, those viewers - people who invest in their homes - will begin to link you to HGTV. You become a part of the larger HGTV universe that viewers occupy each night.

Geography. Buying habits and tastes vary, often dramatically, from neighborhood to neighborhood. Urban dwellers may require repairs more frequently than their suburban counterparts or vice versa. There may be no need to broadcast your ad to an entire market if you only service a particular neighborhood. Spend some time narrowing your ad’s coverage area, picking your spots and maximizing your TV budget. With cable TV, you can “geo-target” your ad to only reach viewers located in a small area such as a single neighborhood that you regularly service.

You may find, however, that you want to target an entire market, in which case, advertising on your local broadcast networks, such as CBS, ABC or NBC, would be right for you.

Time of day. You should choose commercial spots that are during the times when your target audience is most likely to be watching television. If your typical customer is home during the day, spots between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. are good places for your commercial to air. However, if your typical customer works in an office during the day, spots during the evening news are a better option.

Running a campaign

TV advertising is essentially made up of a three-part process: commercial production, media planning and media buying. Some advertising firms can lead you through the entire process, while some specialize in only part of the process.

So-called traditional ad agencies are one such option. They can help you with the whole process. They help you create professional, engaging and effective commercials that are appropriate for each medium. They know, from years of experience, what works, what doesn’t and when to take a creative gamble. The downside is that working with a traditional agency can be expensive. They may charge tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce an original TV commercial for you and it can take months to get on the air.

Media-buying firms are another choice. Former media-sales representatives often staff them. They essentially help you come up with an advertising game plan that may include one or several mediums. The firms generally charge you a commission on each airtime purchase they make. This may be a good option if you have already produced a commercial and are looking for someone to help you get airtime, but if you don’t already have a commercial, you will need to work with a production company, which will require additional time and resources.

Or you can always do it yourself. Advertising is both an art and a science, and the do-it-yourself approach should only be taken if you have the right experience. But if you do have the time, budget and expertise to steer the entire process, you can act as your own creative director and media buyer. Hire a production company to produce an ad that supports your vision and get in touch with your local cable provider or network affiliate to buy airtime.

There’s one more option: Use one of the new technology-based TV advertising agencies. If you want to save money and time and take control of your advertising, you can launch an ongoing TV ad campaign in your local market using new Internet-based advertising services.

These types of companies use the Internet to give customers a one-stop shop for launching TV ad campaigns. Some allow customers to select a commercial from a library of professionally produced ads and customize it with their own pictures, logos, messages and contact information.

Some companies have Web sites that also create a media schedule for you in a few seconds that’s based on your budget, the demographics of your target audience and your industry, allowing you to appear on various network and cable channels such as Fox and CNN.

However you go about advertising, just remember that there’s an audience of people out there looking for the services you provide and - like many of us - they so happen to watch TV.

David Waxman is the co-founder of Spot Runner Inc., a Los Angeles-based Internet-oriented advertising agency that uses technology to make local marketing more affordable. Contact the company online, call (888) 880-SPOT or write 6300 Wilshire Blvd., 21st Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90048.