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Ever watch the Super Bowl when it turns into a lopsided, boring event, and pretty soon you find yourself looking forward to the commercials? Some of today’s best commercials debut during the National Football League’s championship bout, with water-cooler and Web-site chatter the next day rehashing not highlights of the game, but the 30- and 60-second advertisements in between.

With the number of TV viewers at a predictable annual peak, the spots cost millions to buy and likely several millions more to make. But these are the big leagues of advertising, where the major market players can show their stuff and build name recognition—at the same time offering light entertainment and a few laughs for fun.

And with the exception of very few, collision repairers can’t afford to play with the big boys when it comes to TV advertising. Besides, there’s nothing funny about needing a body shop. Right?

Wrong. And wrong.

Pre-Fabulous

It’s been more than 10 years since Chuck Jessen of San Francisco first conceived of a way to make professional ads widely available to professional collision repairers. He saw a “bad ad” for a body shop in California one day: a typical, local cable company-job; the kind that often come off looking low-budget and campy, causing viewers’ eyes to glaze over before the company tagline comes on-screen.
Looking to do a new commercial anyway, one that he could add to his director’s reel and show prospective customers of Jessen Productions/San Francisco, he contacted the owner of the body shop with the unappealing ad and made a sales pitch. Blake’s Auto Body, now with four locations in Southern California, put up $20,000; and Jessen put up the rest to make a professionally filmed, acted, directed and produced commercial.

It was funny and appealing, drawing the attention of viewers and including a tagline for Blake’s Auto Body locations at the end.

Jessen then offered the commercial for use by other shops, but not within the same demographic area as Blake’s. This is a big selling point for his products, Jessen says. His advertisers—and ads—are territory-exclusive: Once a body shop in a given region buys the ad, no others can, including the competition.

The commercial cost upwards of $100,000 to produce, but shops who are using Jessen’s ads can license and customize them with their name for a fraction of the cost.

Licensing fees are relative to the size of a body shop’s TV viewing market, but the average cost is $2,500 to $3,000 per commercial for an 18-month period.

For small markets with a cable TV reach of less than 10,000 households, the fee may be as low as $2,000. For large metropolitan areas, where a chain of body shops plans to use both cable and regular broadcast TV, reaching hundreds of thousands of homes, the fee will be upwards of $6,000. Once the licensing period expires, renewals cost just one-third of the original fee.

Customers may opt to have Jessen Productions put the company’s information at the end of the ad, called “tagging,” which they do at cost once the commercial is licensed for use. With professional graphics and voiceover, the cost of tagging an ad is about $600 more.

‘Love Them’

As for “Sledgehammer,” the first commercial in the line of PreFab Ads now available from Jessen Productions, it became an international hit, winning awards and airing on “World’s Funniest Commercials” and in five countries. A major paint supplier licensed it for use across Germany.

Since then, Jessen has produced about 10 more commercials for body shops, depicting everyday situations that include a humorous pitfall for somebody’s vehicle.

Most recently Jessen finished “Tow Trucks,” with an anti-steering theme, which was scheduled to debut in 13 markets across the country.
The spot opens with a woman next to her damaged convertible on a country road as a tow truck hooks on to the front. Before it can drive away, a large black tow truck, marked “Insurance Reaper” on the side, arrives and hooks up to the rear of the car, initiating a tug-of-war with the red convertible until it tears into two pieces. “Need a body shop?” the voiceover asks.

The commercial ends with the smiling woman seated in her repaired car, followed by the logo of the sponsoring body shop.
PreFab Ads, Jessen says, “Allows these guys to run a spot they could never otherwise afford. They can run it in their town, and it makes them look like a hero.”

Plus, the disarming humor helps build brand awareness for body shops, where customers come around sometimes once every few years when misfortune strikes.

Robbie Berman, owner of Robbie’s Automotive & Collision Specialists in Dover, N.J., has been running TV commercials for about 20 years, in addition to a host of advertising mediums including on buses that run from New Jersey to New York City. Berman met Jessen at NACE a few years ago and signed up for PreFab Ads, instantly impressed.

“I know what it costs for me to produce a quality commercial, and it’s still not going to be as good [as PreFab Ads],” Berman says.
Every time Jessen decides to make another ad, Berman is one of the faithful followers who ponies up money ahead of time to help finance production. “I trust him like family now; we’ve been together a long time doing this work. And he always delivers me a beautiful product.”
PreFab Ads are great for shop owners who want to project a professional image while building name recognition, but what do some of Berman’s regular customers think?

“Two words—love them,” he says. “How can you not? They’re funny, they’re smart, they’re witty. … They’re all things you can relate to.”

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