Promote Yourself Boldly

Howard Scott |

Every drycleaner spends money on advertising and promotions. But how many do it wisely? One marketing guru has figured out that only 10% of advertising dollars spent are effective. That’s 10 cents on the dollar — not too outstanding a return.
One way to make your advertising more effective is to be bold, brassy and even outrageous. Case in point: The U.S. auto industry spends billions of dollars every year to woo buyers. And a one-time, one-page, four-color ad in the New Yorker runs upwards of $95,000.
Contrast that with a recent promotion for the Smart car, a new automobile that will be sold in the U.S. starting this month. Manufactured by Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler AG, the car is already a big success in Europe. Marketers of Smart cars are touring the country, offering test drives to any licensed driver.
I attended a promotion in Cambridge, Mass., this summer. There, people drove the cars around Harvard Square. Six Smart cars were on the go from sunup to sundown; there were often queues of 30 to 40 prospects waiting. Afterward, people could put down a $99 deposit to be among the first owners of a Smart car in the U.S.
By my estimate, a one-day event in Cambridge might cost $8,000, tops. What do you think would be more effective: spending $95,000 on an ad in the New Yorker, or running a “try-it-you’ll-like-it” promo that costs less than $10,000? The Smart car probably won thousands of new admirers and 1,000 buyers that day.
Think boldly. Be unorthodox. Tap into your creativity. Think of doing something no one else would. “The drycleaning industry is too mundane to promote boldly,” you might say. But perhaps you aren’t thinking out of the box enough — yet.
Case in point: The Cleanist in Plymouth, Mass., puts a larger-than life picture of owner Paul Ceccarelli dressed in a stained white shirt on its trucks, next to the caption, “Soil happens.” Funny, provocative and appealing, it’s a visual joke appreciated by everyone who sees it — one that’s connected to the business name.
Ceccarelli isn’t sure how much business the truck ads bring in, but says people comment about it all the time. “How come you’re such a slob, Paul?” they say. “What is that stain, Hennessey?”
The Cleanist has a near-monopoly in Plymouth, a growing community of 60,000. And some of this market domination must come from the high visibility (and memorability) of its vans.
The campaign is founded on the realization that the trucks are the most visible statement of the firm’s presence and purpose. Although the ad doesn’t mention The Cleanist’s ability to remove a stain, it clearly suggests that the company isn’t afraid of such challenges. And except for original paint costs, the ad is free.
Have you ever seen a truck ad that called attention to itself so well? Has a drycleaning vehicle ever made you stop in your tracks and smile? Do you think that more traditional trucks are good promoters for their companies? I don’t.
Thinking outside the box can take work, though. Sit down and think of a conventional ad or promo, then go a step beyond. Imagine a more interesting variation, and figure out a way to do it cheaply.
Look for innovative ads and promotions other industries are using, and figure how to make a similar concept work for you. Speak to people in the advertising business to generate ideas. Brainstorm with your key staffers to generate possibilities.
For instance, you could stick flyers with big blotches on them on car windshields. “Want this mess removed from your shirt, jacket, pants or dress?” it might read. “Come to Dahlgren’s, the can-do cleaners.”
Put the circulars on cars on Main Street, at malls and anyplace else people park. Hire a few college kids to distribute them. Then, wait to see how much response you receive.
Or, place a series of before-and-after ads in the local newspaper. Show a muddy worker “before” cleaning, and a spiffy worker “after.” Show a businessman with a smudge on his tie “before,” and a photo of him looking perfect “after.” Show a surly teenager in grungy clothes “before,” and a neat teenager “after.” “We can make anybody look good,” the copy will say.
Use your friends, family and neighbors as models to stay on a budget. Hire a local photographer, and help with the setup. Don’t spend a fortune making them professional; a humorous amateur look might work best.
The truly bold could do something like sponsor a mudfight. Get a sandbox, and fill it with mud, eggs, tomatoes and other items that stain clothes. Children and adults can participate. Then, dryclean everyone’s clothes for free. “Join the mudfight at Superior’s O.K. Corral, and get your clothes cleaned absolutely free.”
Would a promotion like this cost production money and time? Yes! But it also might be a big hit, and it would almost certainly generate lots of publicity. Passersby may stop and watch, and you want to give your business better visibility, don’t you?
Put on your thinking cap and be bold. Throw the conventional ideas out the window. Come up with unique and even unpredictable promotions. Get your name into the consciousness of the community, and define yourself as a company that surprises.

About the author

Howard Scott

Industry Writer and Drycleaning Consultant

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant. He welcomes questions and comments and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359; by calling 781-293-9027; or via e-mail at


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