Marketing’s not an easy thing for any company, but some brands have it tougher than others. Case in point: our friends in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning segment. Go ahead and laugh, but it’s not funny when your AC dies in August—and our craving for climate control is why “comfort conditioning” (the industry’s preferred nomenclature) will soon be a $139 billion business. According to the Energy Department, nearly 90 percent of us have air conditioning these days, a figure that tallies to over 100 million homes.
Still, none of these facts makes air conditioning units easy to advertise. Unlike fashion or fragrance, AC just isn’t sexy. So what’s a brand like Lennox (conditioning our air since 1895) to do? One tactic is to create an emotional message that encourages consumers to see more than just that machine sitting there. And according to industrial designer Stuart Leslie—founder of firm 4sight in New York—Lennox actually pulls it off in both these 1967 and 2013 ads. “Lennox is speaking to what people want to hear,” he said. “In the 1960s, it was about fresh, clean, natural living—and they used grass and trees to show it. Today, they’re using the products themselves. But they’re still making a strong emotional statement, creating a feeling in you.”
Now, about this 1967 ad. Nobody’s saying it isn’t just a little ridiculous. When was the last time you hiked up the piney coast and found a young mother and her child passing time with a blower and compressor unit? Thematic clumsiness aside, Leslie maintains that given the inherent gracelessness of the appliance Lennox was only doing what it had to. “They were trying to take the customer to an emotional place that the product couldn’t take them on its own,” he said. Deploying the metaphor of clean, fresh, outdoor air to suggest the purity of Lennox’s air-conditioned breezes, this ad reaches out for our desire for wellness, health, serenity.
Now move forward half a century. Still saddled with a clunky core product, Lennox has adopted a new emotional message that, interestingly, embraces the machinery instead of trying to cover it. “Times have changed,” Leslie said. “We no longer have the luxury of thinking about the 1960s back-to-nature messages. Today we live in fear of global warming, power outages, the next big hurricane.” And because we do, this ad’s theme has shifted from tranquility to safety and reliability. Grouped together and photographed up from the floor, the appliances look like a cluster of superheroes. “The message is an emotional play about protection,” Leslie explained. “That you can count on this appliance to keep your family safe, that it’ll be here when nothing else is.”
Funny that when the message shifts to one of protection, suddenly the appliance’s lack of aesthetic charms don’t much matter anymore. Lennox still makes the sturdy, reliable HVAC units it always has. But these days, ugly never looked so good.