I use the word integrity as opposed to honesty when talking about advertising because technically and legally an ad can be honest but at the same time can lack integrity if the offer is too difficult to understand, has too many hoops to jump through, only applies to a product in very short supply or one in which the offer has an end date that a consumer doesn’t have enough time to respond to. If you are looking for examples you can find them in many of the newspaper, coupon book, radio, TV or internet ads you see every day.

The people who write and place this type of advertising rely on slipping one past an unsuspecting public. Their ads are mostly designed to draw you into their establishment, whether it’s online or brick and mortar, by getting you excited about the prospect of owning something new, or in our case, having something serviced or repaired at a price that’s irresistible. Car dealers have done this with leasing for a long time now. It’s one of the reasons it’s so hard for customers to spend three or four thousand dollars to get a transmission rebuilt when they think they can get a brand new car for only a couple of hundred a month.

A savvy consumer who knows a little about leasing could easily figure out that a $25,000 car on a 36 month lease can’t only go for $109 a month without there being some kind of a catch to it. Think about it. A car generally loses half its value in the first three years so when this car gets turned in at the end of the 36-month lease it’s only worth about $12,500. At $109 a month for 36 months the consumer will have only paid in $3,924, which includes whatever interest is on the lease payments. Since no dealer is going to lose $8,000 on a deal like this the fine print would tell you that a trade in and a down payment are required to make up the difference. They also have a fancy way of saying “down payment.” They call it a “capitalized cost reduction.” Don’t be fooled by the terminology. It’s still money out of your pocket.

One of the major car manufacturers who has threatened to close several plants in the United States over the next year or so just came out with a new small luxury SUV. They advertise it to start at $35,000 but in the fine print under a picture of the car are the words, “As shown $56,310.” That’s $21,000 worth of options on a luxury car that should be well equipped to begin with.

It has always been my contention that in our business we should not be advertising price at all, partly because it can be misleading on account of the fact that we don’t know what we have until we see it, but also because we don’t want to compete based on price. If we advertise prices the next guy will try to advertise lower ones and so on, leaving not very much meat on the bone for whoever eventually gets the job. Not only that, but if you were to advertise ridiculously low prices on services just to get customers in the door, as some shops do, the types of customers you will probably get are not the ones you want. They’re the ones who come in for the $9.95 fluid change and nothing else no matter what you might find they need.

If you really feel compelled to advertise price on small services at least make the price believable. The customer must be able to read the ad and say to him or herself, “Yes; I believe they can do it for this price,” otherwise they will think the price is just a come on to an upsell. It’s a lot like Goldie Locks and the three bears; too big, too small and just right. Too high of a price might scare people off; too low wouldn’t be believable, but somewhere in the middle would be just about right.

We want to compete based on providing what we feel are better services than our competitors, a wider range of options, faster response, higher quality parts, the experience of our technicians, better warranty, showing more concern and empathy for the customer, making it as easy as possible for people to do business with us and creating a friendly atmosphere that makes customers feel OK (they’ll never feel really good about having to come to see us) about returning or recommending a close friend.

Whenever I design a print ad I ask myself, “What would I say to the customer if I had him or her here at the shop? How would I go about selling our service?” The questions I would ask during a selling procedure, or a shorter version of them, are similar to the ones I like to use in my advertising. They provoke thought and curiosity; enough to hopefully get the prospect to respond. Some I might only ask, but some I would answer as well. “Is a quality job completed when promised important to you? We won’t waste your time or your money. Our first-class diagnosticians will find and remedy your problem as quickly as possible.” “Wouldn’t you like for this to be the last time you have to have this repair done? With accurate diagnosis and quality parts we will do everything we can to make sure this is the last time you will have to have this repair performed.” “How valuable is your time?” “Would having your car picked up and delivered by us help you? Just one phone call and we’ll take care of the rest.” “Would a convenient way to pay and pick up your finished vehicle be important to you? You can pay by credit card in person, over the phone, online or through PayPal. Your vehicle can be picked up any time with previous arrangement or we can deliver it to your home or jobsite.”

Those are the types of services that interest your customers. Convenience is key. Showing them in your advertising that you care about their time and are trying to make it as convenient and easy as possible for them to do business with you means a lot to most customers. Often it means more than the prices you charge. For those who are only interested in the lowest price in town and perks don’t concern them, doing business with you probably wouldn’t be right for them anyway and they are not the type of customers you want so it wouldn’t be any great loss.

Whatever you say you will do in your advertising, make sure you do it. Follow-through is most important. Most customer complaints come from promises that weren’t kept. Advertising is where you begin to make those promises.

About 40 years ago when I was fairly new to the transmission business and trying to figure out what kind of advertising might attract customers to my fledgling shop I was asked by a group of shop owners in my area to join them in an ad they ran every week in a major New York newspaper. It was a price ad for rebuilt transmissions. One of the most popular transmissions and the least expensive to repair at the time had been the Chevy Powerglide, so they used it as the price example hoping to make the public think that all of their prices would be in line with that one. They priced it at $149, which was dirt cheap even then. They didn’t mention any ups or extras like a rebuilt torque converter, hard parts, fluid or installation. This ad had apparently run for several months, if not years, before I was offered a chance to participate.

The only price ad I had ever run prior to this was for a transmission fluid change and I was more than a little apprehensive about a price ad for an entire transmission. The other shop owners in the ad pool assured me that it was OK because there weren’t that many Powerglides on the road anymore. GMs latest hot setup was the THM350 so that’s what they were seeing most of. They told me it would be rare for anyone to actually call with a Powerglide transmission.

That in itself should have been a red flag for me. Everything about this type of advertising went against the kind of promotion I wanted to do, but I was young and new in the business and the guys reassured me that it brought in a lot of volume of higher priced work and that they weren’t having any problems with it; so I agreed to try it for a month or two.

The ad listed all the shops involved with their phone numbers and addresses and pretty soon after the ad was published I did start to receive phone inquiries. I only did get two jobs out of it though and they were both on Powerglides from people who refused to pay any more than the $149 price that was advertised. Of course, I lost money on both of those jobs because I felt like I had to go through with the repairs because I had advertised it.

I was so freaked out by the way those two customers abused me that I quit the advertising pool immediately and vowed never to run that type of advertising again and never did. Age and “time in grade,” as we used to call the amount of time one held a specific rank in the army before being promoted, brought wisdom.

As I write these pieces I sometimes wonder if it’s OK to tell my friends in the industry about all the mistakes I made on the way up. I believe it is all right because we all do make mistakes and it’s good to know that most of what we do wrong is correctable if we want to work at correcting it.

When it comes to advertising putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and telling them what they need to know in order to make an informed decision as to where they need to bring their vehicles for the best available services gets you the type of customers you really want without sacrificing any of your integrity.