Advertising is so much more than creating pretty materials. If you’ve bought ad space for your company and didn’t see an immediate jump in leads, you know this fact is true. Both marketing and advertising are about establishing a mutual connection with your customers.

In order to be successful, several factors have to come together: you have to understand how you stand out against your competition, communicate to leads how your product solves their problem, and you have to tap into what matters most to your target market in order to be heard.

"Advertising is more than creating pretty materials. It's about establishing a mutual connection with your customers."

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

1. Manhattan Mini Storage

What better place to look at brilliant advertising than right in your own industry? Manhattan Mini Storage offers nearly 20 storage facilities in the NYC neighborhoods of SoHo, Chelsea, Midtown, Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Harlem, Upper Harlem, and downtown Manhattan.

With NYC parking spots costing almost as much as a cheap home in Chicago, the Manhattan population needs space. Rather than creating dry, simple ads and hoping they appeal to their market, Manhattan Mini Storage is bold with most of their advertising efforts. They know the issues their market faces, and they aren’t afraid to make light of it. Check out the messaging they use on the homepage of their website:

Manhattan Mini Storage's homepage has playful content front and center

This playful tone shines in much of their advertising, too. 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.

Manhattan Mini Storage ad: "Let your personality be the reason people don't want to come to your apartment"

Manhattan Mini Storage ad: "We store more paper than Dunder Mifflin"

Rather than leaning on storage marketing jargon and adhering to a strictly professional attitude, Manhattan Mini Storage doesn’t shy away from the types of thoughts their customers are already thinking, even if it might at first seem off-color or edgy.

What Manhattan Mini Storage can teach us

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

  • Know your audience. Ads that openly take a stance against Republicans or voice thoughts on gay marriage wouldn’t work just anywhere. But in NYC, the city ranked as America’s 21st most liberal city, these ads work. Think about what matters to your customers (even beyond the world of storage) and 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. Rather than using precious ad space to inform them about what storage is, showcase a bit of your personality to leave them with a lasting impression about your particular facility.

Manhattan Mini Storage is consistently humorous in their advertising

  • Join the conversation. Manhattan Mini Storage creates several advertisements that speak to current events (particularly political campaigns) and these ads sometimes don’t even mention their services. What is your target audience talking about? How can you get involved in that conversation and get them thinking about storage?

Manhattan Mini Storage makes light of current events with their ads

Depending on the type of market you’re trying to tap into, following some of these tips could be just the sort of refreshing element your advertising needs. 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.”

But even if you disagree with their messages, 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.

2. Old Spice

Advertising doesn’t have to be sexy or daring to be share-worthy. In fact, some of the best campaigns were created to combat this very notion. Take Old Spice’s “Smell Like a Man” campaign 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 advertisements are typically hypersexualized

There are a lot of potential problems with this kind of advertising, but the main one in Axe’s instance is that it misses the mark on the largest portion of their audience: women. Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases and they’re usually the ones buying body care products, whether it’s for their boyfriend, husband, or son. Do you know any women who would want to promote the above image for the main man in their life? I didn’t think so.

Old Spice 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:

I actually had to show that particular ad because almost none of Axe’s commercials would be appropriate to share on this blog. So, which of these two brands do you think a woman would be more likely to gravitate toward?

What Old Spice can teach us

Old Spice manages to appeal to the main decision makers in its market without alienating its 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. What can you 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 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?

Old Spice ads are appealing to men without offending women

  • Show how your product solves a problem. 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 more like a man rather than emasculated by feminine products. 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 product will help them achieve the kind of life they want to lead?

Old Spice shows how their product solves their customers' problems

  • Create content that’s easy to share. These Old Spice commercials were just the beginning of their campaign. From there, Old Spice created customizable voicemail clips and even had actor Isaiah Mustafa personally respond to customers with videos, generating 5.9 million YouTube views in the first day of responses as well as 29,000 Facebook fans and 58,000 Twitter followers. Think about how limited your customers’ attention spans are and think about how you can create ads that your customers can share — and want to share.

Watching these videos, you almost forget that Old Spice makes shampoo, deodorant, and body wash and you enjoy the ads simply for the entertainment value. But Old Spice is never inconsistent 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 and purchase the product.

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?” As I mentioned before, it’s a product that many customers understand. And sometimes it can be hard to turn it into a funny, relatable, and share-worthy advertisement.

Another industry that deals with this problem is 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.

It’s no wonder Geico has a cute CGI 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 created Flo to be featured in their advertising

She’s goofy, friendly, and unabashedly passionate about insurance. Commercials depict her trying (and failing) to be cool, attempting to get cats to play basketball, and singing “I’ll Stand By You” to promote Progressive’s loyalty program.

Car owners have embraced Flo. They want to know more about the comedian behind the character and even go as far as to dress up as her for Halloween. All the while, Progressive has created a likeable character that both promotes their brand and puts a smile on their audience’s face while doing it.

Progressive made it easy for customers to get involved, like with Halloween costumes

What Progressive can teach us

A comparison of insurance to self storage may be the most relevant: competition is high and the product is fairly straightforward. So what can Progressive teach you as you develop the best campaign for your facility?

  • Understand public perception of your industry. People don’t usually love insurance companies and the general public tends to view insurance agents as boring and bureaucratic. Progressive challenged this in an exaggerative way, making it easy for people to think of Flo (happy, silly, and eager) instead of stereotypical insurance reps (disinterested, humorless, and unhelpful). Progressive raked in $18.2 billion in revenue in 2013, even after 100 ads featuring Flo had aired.
  • 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. 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 establishes trust.
  • Give customers a face to remember you by. A personal touch is a powerful thing, especially in the self storage industry where competition is strong. Think about how you can help your customers relate to your company, even if it’s just a familiar face (and consistent branding) across all ads.

Flo is present even in Progressive's print 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.

*Think about the emotional benefits of using your product. How does it make your customers feel? Many purchasing decisions are made on an emotional basis. Are you appealing to that just as much as the practical benefits of your product?

  • Stay true to your brand with all of your marketing and advertising efforts. If you decide to go out on a limb and try an exciting new campaign, think about how that message fits in with the overall image of your facility. If customers 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? Are you keeping them engaged even after they become paying customers?

Forge your own path

In a Forbes article about the most unforgettable ad campaigns of 2013, William Gelner of 180 LA shared the following food for thought: “The holy grail for advertising today is the same as it’s always been: to rise above the fray of soulless sales pitches and become part of culture. Not just being recalled or remembered but hitting a nerve and becoming both share-worthy and meaningful. The best brands get that. They aim higher.”

So whatever you decide to try out for your next advertising campaign, think beyond the words, images, and medium. Get inspired by Manhattan Mini Storage and know your audience, consider injecting humor, and join the conversation your customers are already having. Take a tip from Old Spice and find your decision makers, show how your product solves a problem, and create content that’s easy to share. Try out Progressive’s approach and understand public perception of your industry, be authentic and honest with your customers, and give customers a face to remember you by.

But ultimately, try out what you think is best. Dare to experiment (and fail sometimes, so long as you learn from it). Think beyond the visual. Create psychological arguments and make your product a part of your customers’ culture. Then they’ll be more eager to make your product a part of their life.