Creating an Effective TV Commercial Campaign

Aug. 1, 2013
Regional Auto Center’s creative TV commercials have ensured the shop stays at the forefront of local customers’ minds.

A scorned ex-girlfriend, an unwilling office babysitter, and the Mars Rover landing might not seem related to collision repair, but Regional Auto Center’s success is partly owed to all three. That’s because all three subjects have been the focus of the Greensboro, N.C., company’s successful television commercial campaign, which has turned the business into a household name within the community.

Under the creative eye of company vice president Ric Thomas and his son, Dustin, a University of Southern California graduate with years of advertising and broadcast experience under his belt, the series of creative and funny commercials have racked up national awards and, most importantly, driven business back to the shop.

“The way you consume information is completely different now,” Dustin says. “So much information is thrown at people, so if you’re not putting information out there, too, you’re going to get lost.”

Identifying the Brand

Although Regional Auto Center has been profitable since it opened in 1997, Ric acknowledges that the shop relied heavily on word-of-mouth referrals. But as times changed and profits started to plateau, it became more evident to him that advertising was a necessary expense. That’s when he hired Dustin in 2009 to set up a three-year marketing plan to ensure that the business would keep growing.

But before creating the commercials, Dustin started by defining Regional Auto Center’s brand.

“It’s hit or miss at the beginning. You try it in spurts and see if it’s working. You also want to see how your demo is changing and work with that. Eventually you’ll find a pattern that you can get ahead of.”
—Dustin Thomas, co-creator of
Regional Auto Center’s commercial campaign

“Hands down, do not make a commercial unless you know who you are,” Dustin says.

Regional Auto Center has five locations, including glass and towing services that were added in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Eventually the company came up with an all-encompassing tagline: “Drive safely. We’ll wait.”

“The idea is we’ll be here when you need us,” Ric says. “We’re a family-owned company, we’re a locally owned company, and we will be here when the need arises.”

After identifying the brand, laying the groundwork with an effective digital campaign was the next step.

“You want every corner that someone can go and look for your information to be clean, tight and well representative [of the brand],” Dustin says. “What people are going to do when they see your commercial is go to your website. And if your website doesn’t look like your commercial, they’re going to be like, ‘What’s up with that?’”

Dustin recommends a thoughtful website with strong search engine optimization, and sticking with one or two social networks at which you or your staff excel.

“You need everything to tie together,” Dustin says. “Because the whole experience needs to be the same when you go online.”

Do Your Research

With the brand in place, Dustin began to gather as much information as he could about the shop’s demographics. If possible, Dustin even recommends implementing a short survey that asks customers about their media consuming habits.

“After a couple months, you’ll have enough surveys to figure out what kinds of people are coming into your shop,” Dustin says.

Equally as important was calling local television stations to collect their demographic information, and then comparing that data with the demographics from the shop. Dustin also looked at industry-wide trends, such as information about who is most likely to be involved in a car accident.

“Get the data,” Dustin says. “Data is king. Then go from there and know how to use that data in the best way, to get the best return.”

By comparing both sets of data, Dustin was able to identify patterns and at what time and on which channels potential customers were most likely to catch the shop’s commercial. Though finding the “sweet spot” may be hit or miss at the beginning, having an idea of what demographic to target will make deciding when to air the commercials that much easier. For example, from surveying customers, Dustin found that 62 percent of Regional Auto Center clients were women. Of those women, more than 20 percent were watching the television show New Girl on Greensboro’s local FOX station.

“So wouldn’t it be smart if I put my commercial on there?”

Dustin says. “That’s instant branding.”

Creating Out-of-the-ordinary Content

Since Dustin had previous experience with advertising and producing, he was able to create all of the commercials for Regional Auto Center in house. From the beginning, he knew he wanted the commercials to strike the balance between being entertaining and informative. Dustin figures that by creating an entertaining commercial, viewers are more likely to take notice and talk about the commercial.

In one commercial, an office worker forgets to schedule a babysitter, so he asks his co-worker to look after the screaming infant to avoid getting into trouble with his boss. When the boss hears the screams coming from the office, he peaks in, only to find the coworker masking the source of the crying by pretending to cry at his desk. The commercial ends with “We can’t help you with your sitter, but when it comes to your car, Regional Auto Center can take care of your collision repair, auto glass and towing needs.”

In another set of commercials called “1997 Was a Great Year,” notable events in history from 1997, including the Mars landing and the first person to swim the Florida straits to Cuba, are used to emphasize how long Regional Auto Center has been a part of the community.

Dustin wrote, produced, directed, and edited the commercials himself. Besides the actors, he also hired a sound editor and a cinematographer to achieve a movie-quality look.

Prior to shooting, Dustin created storyboards for each of the commercials that included details about every shot, lighting needs, sound equipment and location.

“You really need to have everything planned out,” he says. “If you don’t, you’re going to be your own worst enemy. You’re never going to come in at budget or below.”

The crew shot for three days straight, and Dustin was able to quickly turn the footage into three, 30-second commercials ready for airtime.

Finding the Sweet Spot

Just as crucial to producing good commercials is airing those commercials in the most effective way possible. Television stations offer the option to handpick when the commercial will air, or to choose from various packages, such as sports, news, or prime time.

Finding the Right Advertising Partner

If you’re not lucky enough to have an advertising expert in the family like Regional Auto Center, Dustin recommends spending the extra money to hire a local advertising agency to handle the commercials. “When people see your commercial, that is a representation of your brand,” he says. To find the right agency for your shop, Dustin says there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

1. While hiring an advertising agency may sound expensive, it’s up to you to set the price. Dustin recommends setting aside 3 percent of yearly sales for your overall advertising budget, and then using that figure as the basis for creating a budget for the campaign.

2. Stick with a local advertising agency. Not only are they more cost-effective, but they also will have more time to concept and focus on your campaign.

3. Meet with up to five agencies to discuss your ideas. The biggest advantage to hiring an agency is that it’s all encompassing; the agency will have writers, directors, equipment, crews and studio space to create, produce and release_notes everything related to the commercial.

4. Advertising agencies typically have demo reels on their websites to give you an idea of their past work and their visual tone; consider what you want the tone to be, and find the advertising agency that best fits that tone.

Using the demographic data he collected, Dustin started experimenting with gearing the campaign to different demographics.

“It’s hit or miss at the beginning,” he says. “You try it in spurts and see if it’s working. You also want to see how your demo is changing and work with that. Eventually you’ll find a pattern that you can get ahead of.”

Regional Auto Center now runs commercials during the nightly news, as well as during popular prime time shows among the shop’s demographic. The commercials also only run for a three-month stretch before switching to a different station.

“You want to hit people over the head with your information, but you don’t want to hit them over the head so much that they’ll get annoyed,” Dustin says.

He says that experimentation is key to finding the right time slot; that could mean trying cable, sporting events, and varying how often the commercial runs or during
which shows.

“If you get the right time slot, weekly could be sufficient,” Dustin says. “You have to find that sweet spot.”

Reaping the Rewards

Three years later and Regional Auto Center has found that sweet spot, and it has been reaping the rewards ever since. In fact, after the commercials started airing, revenue increased by almost $1 million in the span of one year. The company has experienced growth every year, and Dustin is now gearing up for the relaunch of the company’s website and the release of six new commercials this fall.

And while Ric says he can’t trace the shop’s success back directly to the commercials, it’s made him enough of a believer that he’s too scared to find out what would happen if the commercials stopped airing.

“As good as I am, I am not the reason we have grown so astronomically over the past three years,” he says.

“Advertising is the money I don’t want to spend, but if you don’t do it, I think you’re selling yourself short.”

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