Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2015 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Advertising is so much more than creating pretty materials. If you’ve bought ad space for your self storage brand and didn’t see an immediate jump in leads, you know first-hand how tricky advertising can be. Both marketing and advertising are about establishing a mutual connection with your customers.

In order to for advertising to be successful, several factors have to come together: you have to understand how to stand out from your competition, how to communicate to leads that your services can solve their problem, and tap into what matters most to your target market in order to be heard.

While there are many unique and powerful advertising campaigns out there, let’s take a look at three examples that might be particularly inspiring for self storage operators:

  1. Manhattan Mini Storage

  2. Old Spice

  3. Progressive

Manhattan Mini Storage's "Dunder Mifflin" ad.

1. Manhattan Mini Storage

What better place to look at brilliant advertising than right in your own industry? Manhattan Mini Storage offers 17 storage facilities in the NYC neighborhoods of SoHo, Chelsea, Midtown, Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Harlem, Upper Harlem, and downtown Manhattan, and their marketing is anything but ordinary.

With NYC parking spots costing almost as much as a nice home in Kansas City, the Manhattan population needs space. To get consumers’ attention in the city that never sleeps, Manhattan Mini Storage is bold with their advertising efforts. They know the issues their market faces (tiny, expensive housing), and they aren’t afraid to make light of it.

Their playful tone consistently shines in their advertising. If you perform a Google image search for their advertisements, you’ll find several pictures of billboards and signs with all sorts of relatable and entertaining quips for New Yorkers.

Manhattan Mini Storage's "small apartment problems" ad.

Rather than leaning on storage marketing jargon and adhering to a strictly professional attitude, Manhattan Mini Storage doesn’t shy away from the conversations that New Yorkers are having, even if it might at first seem off-color or edgy.

What Manhattan Mini Storage can teach us

If you aren’t located in the heart of New York City, there’s a good chance that some of Manhattan Mini Storage’s tactics wouldn’t work well in your market. But there are some key pieces of their creative advertising strategy that you can use to inspire your own campaign ideas:

  • Know your audience. Ads that openly take a stance on politics or voice thoughts on gay marriage wouldn’t work just anywhere. But in NYC, one of America’s most progressive cities, these ads work. Think about what matters to your customers (even beyond the world of self storage) and try to relate to them in your advertising.

  • Consider injecting humor. In the self storage industry, I’d say your customers pretty much know what to expect from your business. Storage space, climate control, moving boxes, and the like. It’s not a complicated service. Rather than using precious ad space to inform them about what storage is, show off a bit of your brand’s personality to leave them with a lasting impression about your business.

  • Join the conversation. Manhattan Mini Storage creates several advertisements that speak to current events (particularly politics). What is your target audience talking about? How can you get involved in that conversation and get them thinking about your business? Again, this advertising style might not work for everyone. But for a left-leaning city like NYC, it’s a big opportunity for brands.

Depending on the type of market you’re trying to tap into, following some of these tips could be just what you need to refresh your storage ads. Manhattan Mini Storage’s approach certainly isn’t for everyone, earning itself a reputation for being provocative and receiving headlines like "Manhattan Mini Storage Insults Half of NYC.” Even if you disagree with Manhattan Mini Storage's message or their stance, consider how your facility can amp up its advertising efforts by speaking up, spreading laughs, or even challenging some people’s opinions if you think the payoff is worth it.

Old Spice's "smell like a man" ad.

2. Old Spice

Advertising doesn’t have to be political or daring to be share-worthy. In fact, some of the best campaigns were created to combat this very notion. Take Old Spice’s humorous “Smell Like a Man” ads as an example.

Their biggest competitor, Axe, has long aired commercials showing men using their products and attractive women flocking to them because of it.

Axe's ad showing a young guy with two TSA agents flirting with him in the airport.

There are a lot of potential problems with this kind of advertising, but the main problem with Axe’s ads is that they miss the mark on the largest portion of their audience: women. Women account for over 85% of all U.S. consumer purchases and they’re usually the ones buying body care products - yes, even men’s body care products. Whether it’s for their boyfriend, husband, or son, women are typically the ones making U.S. household buying decisions. Do you know many women who would be drawn to the above Axe ad? I don’t think so.

Old Spice recognized and combated this trend when they created a commercial that spoke directly to women while still relating to their main demographic: men. Take a look:

Now compare this commercial to a typical one for Axe:

So, which of these two brands do you think a woman would be more likely to gravitate toward? It's a no-brainer.

What Old Spice can teach us

Old Spice manages to appeal to the main decision makers in its market without alienating its male customer. After all, the “smell like a man” tagline is highly appealing to men. The over-the-top, theatrical commercials and quick wit enrapture both genders, making them appealing to both men and women. So what can your self storage business take away from this strategy?

  • Find your decision makers. Sometimes the people who choose your services aren’t the people who actually use your services. For example, if you live in a college town, who’s the one that actually searches for student storage: the student or their parents? Even if you’re speaking to your target customer, is the messaging appealing to the person who’ll actually move forward in the rental process with you? Make sure your messaging is appealing to both!

  • Show how your services solve problems. Both Axe and Old Spice do a good job of painting a picture of an idealized lifestyle. What does a man really want when he’s buying body wash or body spray? Probably to feel clean while also still feeling (and smelling) manly. Old Spice never loses sight of this idea and pushes it in almost every single one of their ads. Are you using ad space to show your customers how your storage services will help them achieve the kind of life they want to lead?

  • Create content that’s shareable. These Old Spice commercials were just the beginning of their “smell like a man” campaign. Consider your customers’ limited attention spans and think about how you can create ads that your customers want to share on social media or talk about with friends.

Watching these videos, you almost forget that Old Spice makes shampoo, deodorant, and body wash and you simply enjoy the ads for their entertainment value. Meanwhile, Old Spice stays consistent with their brand image.

The result? When a man (or woman) strolls down the aisles to pick up hygiene products, they remember the name Old Spice and the positive feelings associated with watching their ads, making them more likely to reach for (a lead) - and purchase (a conversion) - the product.

Progressive's "Flo" ad about saving on car insurance.

3. Progressive

If your storage facility has tried creating ads in the past, I’m betting you’ve honestly thought once or twice, “how am I supposed to make self storage exciting?” Self storage is a service that customers understand, and it’s not exactly sexy. Sometimes it can be difficult to turn self storage into a funny, relatable, or share-worthy advertisement.

Another industry that deals with this same problem? Insurance. You know, that thing that the government requires you to purchase in order to drive a car, and the service you hope you never have to use. The one we all love to hate.

It’s no wonder Geico has a cute little gecko, AllState personifies “mayhem” as a sarcastic troublemaker, and Aflac uses a duck with an memorable, albeit annoying, catchphrase. Now enter Progressive’s spokesperson, Flo:

Progressive's "Flo" character standing at a white desk.

She’s goofy, friendly, and (strangely) passionate about insurance. Commercials depict her trying (and failing) to be cool, talking to herself in the mirror, and acting like a hostage negotiator for new, nervous homeowners.

Flo is memorable and human - two things insurance typically is not. Consumers want to know more about the comedian behind the character. Using Flo, Progressive has created a likeable character that both promotes their brand and puts a smile on their audience’s face while doing it.

What Progressive can teach us

A comparison of insurance to self storage may be the most relevant: competition is high, the product is fairly straightforward, and it usually comes down to rates. So what can Progressive teach you as you develop an ad campaign for your storage brand?

  • Understand public perception of your industry. People don’t usually enjoy working with insurance companies and the general public tends to view insurance agents as corporate jerks. Progressive challenged this in an exaggerated way, making it easy for people to think of Flo (happy, silly, and eager-to-help) instead of stereotypical insurance reps (disinterested, humorless, and unhelpful).

  • Be authentic and honest with your customers. While Flo is perky and exaggerated, Progressive doesn’t try to sell themselves as something they aren’t. It’s just insurance at an affordable rate. They’re playful and they challenge the norm, but they don’t explicitly state that they’re the best or that they’re perfect. That kind of honesty speaks to customers and helps establish trust.

  • Give customers a face to remember you by. A personal touch is a powerful thing, especially in an industry with strong competition. Think about how you can help your customers relate to your company on a human level, even if it’s just with a familiar face (and consistent branding) across all of your ads.

You don’t need to create an over-the-top character or hire a comedian to get the benefits that Progressive has seen from their advertising. But by understanding what your customers think of self storage and addressing it honestly with a smiling face, you immediately make your facility more personable than the standard listings your customers will find.

General advertising tips

Along with the takeaways from each of these advertising campaigns, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind as you strengthen your self storage marketing and advertising efforts.

Consider the emotional benefits of using self storage. How does it make your customers feel? Less stressed, for starters. Many purchasing decisions are made on an emotional basis. Are you appealing to how renters will feel after storing with you in addition to the practical benefits of self storage? Above all, consider the following:

  • Stay true to your brand with all of your marketing and advertising efforts. If you decide to go out on a limb and try a new and exciting ad style, think about how that message fits in with the overall image of your facility. If the community didn’t like a certain ad, would you still stand behind it?

  • Capitalize on your success. The best spokespeople for your company may very well be your happy customers. Are you making it easy for them to spread the word about your facility with online reviews? Are you renters leaving happy and ready to refer a friend?

Forge your own path

Whatever you decide to try out for your next advertising campaign, think beyond the words, images, and medium. Get inspired by the brands you love. Take a tip from Manhattan Mini Storage and get to know your audience, consider injecting humor into your brand, and be conversational. Learn a thing or two from Old Spice and find your decision makers, show how your services solve customers' storage problems, and create content that’s shareable on social media. Try out Progressive’s approach and understand public perception of your industry, be authentic and honest with your customers, and give customers a friendly face to remember you by.

At the end of the day, do what you think is best for your brand. Dare to experiment (and fail - as long as you learn from it). Think beyond just the visual of the ad. Create an emotional connection and make your self storage business a part of your community culture. In return, community members will be more eager to make your business a part of their life.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this blog post, you may also like: Selling & marketing to the self storage consumer: How to get the biggest bang for your buck, How users search for self storage + the #1 reason why you shouldn't obsessively Google yourself, and 15 metrics every storage owner should be tracking.