Crazier, the Better: The Art (and Science) of Local TV Ads
by Tim Edmundson12 min read
- We asked marketers to tell us about the craziest, most memorable local TV ad they’ve seen.
- Connected TV audience targeting and the rise of ecommerce has introduced a “local” dynamic for a wide range of businesses, and the fundamentals of effective local TV advertising can prove useful in their current ad strategies.
- Nearly one in four (24%) of the submitted ads were for car dealerships, however dozens of different types of businesses’ ads were submitted.
- Humor and authenticity were the overriding themes of all submitted ads.
- 60% prominently featured contact information, and 40% included a catch phrase or tagline of some kind.
Everyone Remembers a Certain Local TV Ad, and For Good Reason
“Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal!”
“His prices are INSAAAANE!”
“Aye aye! Goodbye!”
Depending on where you are in the world, these taglines are instantly recognizable. They’re the language of the memorable local TV ad—the type that sticks with you for years.
If you ask “what’s the most memorable local TV ad from your hometown?” chances are everyone has an answer. Every town, city, village, or county has one. Whether it’s an accident attorney who will fight for you, a discount retailer with prices that are insane, or a car dealer with a catchy jingle—these small and regional businesses can produce ads that carry as much recall as the biggest brands in the world.
But how? We decided to find out. We asked marketers to tell us about that one local ad that has stuck with them and captured their attention. We then collected the answers, analyzed the results, and ID’d the elements that make up the secret sauce. Here’s what we found.
A Lot of Variety, but Car Dealerships Reign Supreme
There are a lot of different types of local businesses making memorable ads, and the variety of verticals submitted was somewhat surprising.
Surveyed respondents named ads from dozens of different verticals, ranging from the expected car dealerships and furniture stores, to hot tub rentals and a tree farm.
This goes to show that no matter what industry you’re in, you’re not out of the running when it comes to making an impression. In fact, a previous Peeks poll found that ads produced by medical equipment and industrial chemical manufacturers were some of the most effective of all time. If you have a compelling message and present it in a strong way, you’re going to succeed.
Local ads proved to have an international flavor as well. We saw submissions from countries around the world, proving that it doesn’t matter where you’re from—the catchy local TV ad is something we all have in common. These included:
- The United States
- Trinidad and Tobago
- The United Kingdom
- New Zealand
Creativity Beats Cost
Half of the fun of conducting this Peeks survey was watching all the submissions. While we’ll get into the rest of the learnings shortly, we wanted to share an ad that didn’t fall into a common theme or industry, but has a good lesson in it regardless.
We won’t tell you what type of business it’s for. The reveal is too good. Watch it first, then proceed down below so we can talk about why it’s so great.
The lesson here is that you don’t need a big production budget if your idea is strong. The ad for King Stahlman Bail Bonds, out of San Diego, uses simple text, b-roll, and Raiders fans’ “passionate” reputation to raise their profile in the region—one that was very much in on the context of the joke. The production budget for this was practically nothing, and yet it was submitted as someone’s most memorable local TV ad—and for good reason.
The Fundamental Elements
After reviewing countless local ads, we noticed some common elements that kept popping up. And often, these tied back to the idea that the ads were meant to drum up direct business. This was commonly accomplished by employing two key elements: telling the audience where to go, and what to do.
These have brought success to local businesses for decades, and brands of any size should pay attention to these key elements if they are looking to tie success back to their TV campaigns.
- They include contact information. This is a key element that is more important now than ever. Just as local viewers needed to know how to get to the location, so do modern streaming viewers. Include your website URL (persistently, if possible, in a lower corner) to ensure your audience knows how to find you.
- They call on viewers to take action. “Come on down” is a popular CTA in local TV advertising, and for good reason. Tell your audience what they should do after seeing your ad—a small nudge like that does make a difference. Bonus points if you include both a visual and audible CTA.
- They include an earworm. Be it a jingle or a catchphrase, these ads were memorable for a reason. A simple phrase or few bars help ads stick with viewers.
Diving Deeper Into the Top Verticals
Let’s take a look at what made the most commonly submitted types of ads memorable for viewers.
Quite often local TV ad royalty, car dealerships were the most commonly cited example of a memorable commercial in our survey. And the king of car dealership ads is Cal Worthington, of Long Beach, California.
His commercials alone garnered an impressive amount of submissions—and for good reason. Featuring him and his dog Spot (which was actually an elephant, tiger, goat, cow or other animal currently used for that creative cycle), Cal’s ads combined spectacle with a strong pitch.
“How would you like to have a brand new Ford car or truck for about half price?” asks Cal. Then, he cleverly uses the definition of a used car to sell viewers on the quality of his offering.
“Well friends, let me tell you something, there’s a law in California that says if you register a new car and drive it on the highways at all for 1 foot, you have to sell it as a used one…cars and trucks that are brand new as far as I’m concerned, but they’ve been registered, they’ve been driven. So we’re forced to sell them by law as used. You want to save some money? Look at this.”
Cal’s ads showcased some of the most common themes found throughout the submitted car dealership ads.
- The owner delivers the message to make the business personable.
- There’s a heavy focus on savings—price being a pain point for buying a car.
- Catch phrases and jingles were used to make the ad easily recognizable.
That’s not to say there weren’t other styles that left an impression. The funnier ads were well represented too, whether it was an ad where the characters believe they’re in a different type of commercial, or a deadpan-delivery of a news report covering the owner going to jail for overpaying on trade-ins.
Furniture brands were the second most cited in our poll. And the most common theme among them was to showcase the product. How they went about it, however, wasn’t common at all.
Ranging from suave, to touting emphatic catch-phrases, each local furniture store ad possessed a unique style.
The ad from Vancouver’s Malacca Rattan features a man in a tuxedo delivering a stylish jingle against a backdrop of rattan furniture cast in neon. Their tagline, “Get Malacca for the money, Rattan to go” mirrors the phrase “one for the money, two for the show.” It really doesn’t make too much sense, but that doesn’t stop it from being memorable.
The lesson here: if you, or your offering, have style to spare—make sure your ad flaunts it. Side note, a couple of the submissions that nominated this ad made reference to a NSFW Greek translation, which we won’t get into here, but we can’t stop you from googling it.
Of course, there are other ways to go about selling furniture. Representing New Orleans, Louisiana, Frankie and Johnny’s Furniture implored viewers to “see the special man.” With an authentic cast of talent sourced from their staff, and a primary message of helping anyone purchase quality furniture regardless of their financial status, this ad found a special place in viewers’ hearts.
Frankie and Johnny never met a catchphrase they didn’t like. The ad is bursting with them, coming in at a solid four.
“I say, I say, I say!”
“See the special man!”
“Let her have it!”
“With no problem!”
The flow of the ad sees them linked together to form a mesmerizing handoff of memorable one liners—thus resulting in the author of this Peeks report repeating them to the point of annoying his wife incredibly.
If you want high energy, then go down the rabbit hole watching ads from discount retailers. The word “crazy” isn’t a pejorative when it comes to these businesses, it’s a badge of honor.
The most famous, and the one who garnered the most submissions in this category, is Crazy Eddie. Founded in Brooklyn, New York in 1971, this discount retailer used the iconic catchphrase “His prices are insane!” to tout their biggest value prop.
Their ads buzzed with a high-energy, frenetic style that embodied the craziness of both their prices and their namesake. In fact, we touched on the co-owner’s rollercoaster of a story in a previous Peeks report, which is a must-read if you’re not familiar with it.
Crazy Eddie’s legacy lived on through the style of his ads, leading to a sub-genre of crazy discount retailers that stretched from coast to coast. Los Angeles’ Crazy Gideon, who starred in his own ads, became a staple of LA television in the 90s.
The second most-submitted ad in the category belonged to The Captain’s Bargain Store of Vancouver, British Columbia. Featuring the owner, appropriately named The Captain, the ads were simple and to the point. He made sure to feature his brand name, address, and phone number persistently throughout.
For advertisers looking to drive business via their Connected TV ads, this is a hugely important takeaway. Persistent URLs are extremely useful—if you’re spending money to get your offering in front of viewers for 15 or 30 seconds, why not feature your web address the whole time? It’s a piece of information you want them to know, so make sure they know it.
Interestingly, The Captain’s message evolved. With a focus on self-care and improvement (but still keeping his contact info continuously visible), his values-based message was perhaps ahead of its time; a Harris poll in 2022 found that 82% of consumers want a brand’s values to align with their own.
Who doesn’t love a good time? And who doesn’t love the ads from local waterparks, mini-golf courses, go-karts, and hot-tub-room rentals? According to our poll, these were a popular choice.
Local recreation offerings embraced the majority of common elements we found throughout our submissions. Since they often advertised a physical location, the address and contact information were always prominently displayed. Catch phrases and jingles abounded. Calls to actions included like they were going out of style.
Coming out of Columbus, Ohio, SunBubble offered the chance to rent a room with a hot tub and a 19” color TV. Kicking off with a melodic “SunBubble’s the place to be, hot-tubbin’ for you and me,” the ad then listed out scenarios that would be a perfect fit for their hot tubs.
The call-to-action was to stop by after work, then showing a dude relaxing, and sliding down into the bubbles. They also wanted you to bring the whole family, and they showed kids in the hot tub with a ball, whilst their parents lovingly watched…All of these good times took place in small, caterpillar yellow-tiled rooms, with TVs and a radio. I wanted to go to SunBubble so badly.Kevin K.
The ad for Putt Putt Golf and Games, from Greensboro, North Carolina, rocked a catchy jingle (which sounds like a less-intense version of “Crossfire”), showed kids having a blast playing mini-golf, and featured an animated orange golf ball having the time of its life. It really captures the essence of marketing to kids in the 1990s.
Carpet and Tile
The answer to “How do you make carpet interesting?” is “Just go nuts.”
Emerging from the Gateway to the West, this series of carpet ads out of St. Louis captured the attention of many Missourans. Becky Queen of Carpets and Wanda entreated viewers to visit a collection of carpet retailers while perched atop both the iconic Arch and a flying carpet.
They ran ads like this spanning decades. The visual shorthand of recognizable, recurring characters is useful for making your brand easily identifiable, and is something you’ll find among top brands like Geico and Becky, Queen of Carpets.
Everywhere is Local
There’s a point to be made about studying the success of local TV ads.
Local businesses need their ads to generate outcomes that impact the bottom line. They are performance marketers; by reaching a nearby audience, they engage the folks who are most likely to walk into their stores and make a purchase, or hire their services.
The rise of ecommerce effectively makes every business a local one—instead of walking through your door, shoppers visit your website. With Connected TV’s targeting capabilities, marketers can target those most likely to visit and convert. It’s the same formula as a local business, but at a much larger scale.
So keep these findings in mind when mapping out your TV strategy. They can prove useful for marketers who are increasingly looking to Connected TV to generate direct business—there’s a reason these ads are memorable after all.
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