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When It Comes To Advertising, Bigger Is Definitely Better.

Going Big In Marketing Gives A Contractor More Visibility, More Room To Sell, And More Credibility…

Going Big In Marketing Gives A Contractor More Visibility, More Room To Sell, And More Credibility…

Tips, Tricks, & Advice For Determining What Size Ad To Go With.

My friend Chris got up at 5 AM, waited in line, and bought the new iPhone 6 on the first morning it was available for sale. I met with him for lunch later that day and held my suddenly-puny iPhone 5 next to his gargantuan new model… and was horrified. My scrawny phone was dwarfed by iPhone 6 awesomeness… so even though I’m not one of those “gotta have the latest and greatest gadget” kinds of guys, I determined right then and there I would upgrade as soon as possible.

But what about the iPhone 6 Plus?

Now that sucker is HUGE. I asked Chris why he chose the relatively tame 6 instead of its elder brother, and he replied that the iPhone Goliath was simply TOO BIG. I had seen pictures of course, but Chris reported that the real McCoy was too big to fit comfortably in his hand… or pocket for that matter. It’s just too big.

Or is it?

The same questions of “how big is too big?” are constantly in play for advertisers, too. We’ve all agonized over what size ad to buy, how large a postcards should be, what size home show booth or display to go with, or what length TV or radio spots to buy. In advertising, the decision often comes down to cost, not style preference. And therefore the size question really becomes “Is the extra size worth the extra money?” And if so, to what extent?

That’s why I’m here—to help you wade through this “size matters” conundrum.

First, let’s go with a good rule of thumb: in advertising, bigger is almost always better.

The major issue is visibility. Your number one obstacle to getting good advertising results is simply being seen (or heard)! And things that are bigger tend to be more easily seen. They get noticed. They stand out from the crowd. So the bigger ad has a better chance of being spotted; a 20’ home show booth has twice as much chance of getting noticed compared to a 10’ one. And so on.

But there’s also the issue of quantity of content. The more room you have, the more stuff you can put in it. This is obvious, but shouldn’t be discounted. Especially in the early stages of an advertising campaign where your prospects don’t know you as well, and the extra words you can use to build your case in a larger ad can be very helpful.

And don’t discount increased credibility and stature that comes from being the big kahuna. People naturally assume that the biggest is the best. Clearly, there are cases where bigger is not better, but in a wide variety of situations, it’s a useful decision-making shortcut. People are subconsciously conditioned to prefer the big to the small, the tall to the short, and the strong to the weak. Maybe it’s a survival of the fittest thing—just know that it’s real. The guy with the biggest ad will naturally be assumed to be the strongest competitor.

So with that prelude, let’s take a look at specific contractor marketing media and situations and make some points on each:

Print Advertising: In most cases, you should buy the biggest ad you can afford, and if possible/appropriate, pay extra for premium placement (inside covers, back covers, etc.). But you don’t necessarily have to go with full-page ads to maximize your bang-for-buck ratio.

  • Try splitting your full-page ad into TWO half-page ads placed at different parts of the publication; the idea is that readers are only seeing the top of the ad as they browse the publication anyway, and with the 2-for-1 tactic, you have just doubled your coverage.
  • Try a vertical half-page ad. This is especially effective in the newspaper where the pages are pretty darn wide to start with, and the resulting vertical half is still wide enough to give you a visually-decent looking headline and ad. For these, I prefer to make the ad the full height of the page so that it’s tall look is unusual and interrupting.
  • As a spin on the 2-for-1 strategy above, try what I call “carpet bombing.” This is where you split your full page ad into six to eight ads that are much smaller, and spread them throughout the publication. It’s important if you do this to make sure the ads are very bright and distinct, visually speaking. You want them to be NOTICED…. Repetition of an unusual color (bright!) will do the trick.
  • Remember that if you negotiate long-term contracts you can get your full-page (or variations, per above) at a much more affordable rate (this tip goes for other media as well).

Direct Mail: One of the best ways to stand out in the mailbox is to make your mail so big that it is literally protrudes over the edge of the prospect’s mail pile. I like postcards to get this job done; in the past I have been a strong proponent of the 6” x 11” postcard instead of the smaller 5.5” x 9”. But now there are too many others who have caught on to this, and I’ve noticed in my personal mailbox days with four or five of the 11” cards. Do not fear, you can legally mail postcards up to 11” x 14” now, which is basically the iPhone 6 plus of postcards. A few more tips:

  • Try EDDM from the USPS; in a nutshell, it’s a butt-cheap way to send postcards. EDDM stands for “Every Door Direct Mail,” so you might rightly guess that to qualify for these cheap mailers you have to send them to EVERY DOOR. But every door doesn’t mean every door in the world, it just means every door on a given carrier route. The post office can help you define the neighborhoods (and specific streets, even) that you want to target.
  • Try “Lumpy Mail.” That’s where you send an odd-sized envelope or package that has something in it that gives it some heft or a lump of some sort. The idea is simple: Because of the unusual nature of the packaging, people will naturally be curious to find out what’s inside and open it. I’ll be writing an entire post on lumpy mail next year, but for now, use your imagination.
  • Sneak attack! Since there are so many advertisers using the bigger postcards now, you can actually try going small with tiny postcards. These are the ones the size that your grandma used to send you from vacation. Remember, the first order of business is getting noticed… and what gets noticed is things that are different. Sometimes small can actually do the trick.

Radio & TV: I’ve lumped these two together because the size discussion for both is essentially the same. When I speak of size for radio & TV, I’m talking about the length of the commercial. For radio, sixty seconds is standard, and thirty seconds is short; for TV, thirty seconds is standard, and fifteen seconds is short. In both cases, you normally want to opt for the standard, longer spots. Why? It has more to do with quantity of content (per above) than anything else—you want as much time as possible to actually talk about your stuff. More time = better description of your product’s advantages.

  • If you are new on a given station, I recommend going with the longer spots exclusively (or at least nearly exclusively) for the first full year. This gives the listeners/viewers a chance to become very familiar with your selling points. Then, in year two, you can transition into a mix of shorter and longer spots. For instance, for radio, you might go 60% sixty-second spots, 40% thirty-second spots. As you get into year three, four and beyond, you can steadily increase the number of short spots, but (as a rule) don’t go below 40% of the longer spots.
  • Try to negotiate first position during the advertising break for maximum exposure, even if it costs more. If your ad runs second and people have already changed the channel, nothing else matters.
  • If you use really short spots (five or ten seconds) only do so as an augmentation of your longer, regular spots. Short spots are great for name recognition, but if the listener/viewer doesn’t understand who you are and why you’re better, then your short spots won’t have anything to anchor to, mentally.

Billboards: For freeways, you want the biggest freaking billboard you can get. People are going to be zooming past that thing at eighty miles an hour… so you want a huge board with three to seven words on it. That’s the nature of billboards. For side streets or areas with lots of traffic (so drivers are forced to go slow), then smaller boards can be effective.

Home Shows: In reality, the most important part of your home show display is how NICE IT LOOKS, not how big it is. Since the vast majority of the booths at the show are standard 10’ booths, you won’t lose any prestige by being part of that group. You will, however, look like a “tiny weakling” if you skimp on your backdrops, displays, and signage. In other words, don’t show up to a wedding wearing cut off jean shorts and a T-shirt. At least wear a suit, right?

  • One place to GO BIG at the home show is with your handouts. We recommend using a “big bill” which is simply an oversized dollar bill (17” x 7.3”) that is printed with a dollar amount consistent with your offer ($1,000 off, $10,000 giveaway, etc.) on one side, and your company’s IDENTITY on the other side. These have terrific interrupt value, and will increase your lead flow by double.

As with everything in contractor marketing, the above should be taken as rules of thumb, and not absolute laws. But for the most part, the extra money you spend to super-size your advertising is going to pay dividends.

Now, should I go with the iPhone 6… or the 6 Plus?

Free Ad Review: Send us any piece of marketing—advertisement, brochure, web page, etc.—and we’ll check it out and give you our unvarnished opinion of what’s right, what’s wrong, and what needs to happen to make it better. Do this BEFORE you spend big money on marketing. Offer is limited to the first five companies who respond; one ad/marketing piece per company please. Email your ad and your contact information to

© 2014 – 2016, Rich Harshaw. All rights reserved.

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