Are You Making This Advertising Mistake?

In the Dallas area, an air conditioning contractor likes to poke fun at a competitor with his radio ads. Well, “poke fun” is probably inaccurate. The ads are profoundly negative. As such, they hurt both companies and the industry as a whole.

The only place where negative ads work is politics. In politics each election is a zero sum game. Make the opponent look unacceptable and you can win by default if you’re the only other choice.

In business, the choice isn’t you or the other guy. It’s you or a thousand other guys. In fact, the choices expand beyond a thousand other guys when you consider everyone who wants a piece of the consumer’s dollar.

When you slam the competition, you not only denigrate the competitor, you make your company look bad. People don’t want to do business with you if there’s another option. This is why every sales trainer in the industry coaches you to avoid slamming your competitor.

Moreover, your negative ad not only taints your competitor and you, it taints the industry. By casting contractors as untrustworthy (something we have to battle enough as it is), you make a cynical public more skeptical.

The Apple Mac versus PC ads are often cited as an example of effective negative advertising in business. If they were effective, it was because the choice of consumer personal computer operating systems is largely limited to Apple and Microsoft (no offense Linux fans). Like politics, there are only two choices.

But were the Apple ads really effective? Even with a series of horrible product blunders by Microsoft (e.g., Windows Vista), Apple’s operating system remained in the single digits. It’s possible that Apple’s advertising made the “Cult of Mac” feel smug about itself, while irritating everyone over age 30 who disdains the slacker culture celebrated in the advertising. Guys who buys the most computers?

Comparison Advertising is Not Negative Advertising

Negative ads differ from comparison advertising, which has a legitimate role, though not for contractors. When there’s a clear, recognized market leader, comparing your offering against the leader can help consumers see you as an alternative worth considering.

To be effective, comparison advertising must be factual rather than derogatory. There also must be a clear, recognized market leader. This eliminates the opportunity for comparison advertising with contractors in almost all markets. The contractor market is too fragmented. There isn’t a recognized leader.

Sing Your Praises, Not Your Competitor’s Faults

The best approach is to focus all of the things you offer the public. The purpose of advertising is to make the phone ring while building name awareness. Give people a reason to call your company. Inform them about the economic benefits of a tune-up, an energy upgrade replacement, and duct sealing. Let them know you can make all rooms comfortable at the same time. Tell the public about the benefits of whole house air filtration, which really does make the air fresher and helps asthma and allergy sufferers breathe.

There’s so much positive to tell to an uniformed public that it’s foolish to waste scarce advertising resources tearing down a competitor. By proxy, all you accomplish is tearing down the entire industry, which includes you.

Hold a Contractor Intervention

Whether you’re the subject of a contractor’s negative advertising campaign or not, you’ll suffer collateral damage from the vitriolic fallout. Don’t put up with it. Get a few good competitors together and visit the negative advertiser. Point out the fallacy of negative advertising in a fragmented market. See if positive peer pressure can elicit more professional practices. Remember, it’s your industry too.

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable. For scores of examples of positive HVAC advertising and marketing call 877.262.3341 and request a free tour of the Service Roundtable. Or, visit

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