How to Make Paper Cigars
When it is time to write an ad, and there is no felt need in the heart of the customer to which you can speak, make a paper cigar.
Teddy Roosevelt was a man of improvisation. He knew his paper cigars. This allowed him to explain the process of making them in the fewest possible words: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
The slow weeks before and after peak season are called the shoulder season. People who can create ads that bring in business during the shoulder season are people you want on your team.
Winter is peak season for heating. Summer is peak season for air conditioning. But how does an HVAC company keep its employees paid during the shoulder season, those weeks of mild weather in between?
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Funny, isn’t it? Teddy gave us the answer before air conditioning was even invented.1
Every HVAC company knows the answer to the shoulder season is to convince the public of the importance of routine maintenance. But that’s kind of like trying to convince people to shop early for Christmas. Everyone knows it’s a smart thing to do, but few people actually do it. As a result of our procrastination, we wait in long lines, choose from a picked-over selection and pay higher prices because we delayed our shopping – one day at a time – until December twenty-second and then flew into a blind panic.
Air conditioning maintenance is like that. We delay it until the unit breaks down.
When you need to sell a product or a service, and no one is feeling the need for that service, it’s time to make a paper cigar. But don’t rely on logic. Logic speaks to the mind of the customer. You’ve got to win the heart. And that takes wit and charm.
Here is a hugely successful TV ad for the shoulder season that was produced by Casey Welch and Korey McDonald. 2
TECH 1: Mr. Jenkins told me…
TECH 2: When it starts getting warmer and you’re thinking about turning on that Air Conditioner
TECH 3: [waving her palms in comic alarm] Don’t Do It!
TECH 4: [waving his palms in comic alarm] Don’t Do It!
TECH 2: A/C compressors get dried out during the winter
TECH 1: and they need to be brought into service
TECH 2: [with palms held downward, he slowly lowers them to illustrate “gently”] gennnntly.
CSR 1: For just 89 dollars, a Morris-Jenkins technician will wash the outside unit and bring it into service
TECH 2: [palms downward, he slowly lowers them] gennnntly.
TECH 1: And we promise NOT to disrupt your household.
DEWEY: We come and go [palms downward, he slowly lowers them] gennnntly.©
Here’s an even-more-successful ad Casey and Korey produced the following year.
DEWEY: [takes a long step backward with one foot, and with a sweep of his arm reveals Techs standing behind him as he says] It’s that time again!
[Music begins playing. Technicians begin dancing.]
TECHS: It’s time for us to come-and-go gently, gently.
It’s time for us to come-and-go gently, gently.
Compressors-dry-out during wiiiiinter months
And-need-to-be brought back [palms downward, they lower them] gennnntly.
SCENE TWO [Working on an outside unit]
TECH 1: For just 89 dollars
TECH 2: A Morris-Jenkins technician will wash your outside unit
TECH 3: and bring it into service
TECH 4: [palms downward, she slowly lowers them] gennnntly.
TECH 3: [palms downward, he slowly lowers them] gennnntly.
DEWEY: Morris-Jenkins comes and goes
ALL TECHS: [singing in unison, with hand-motion] gently, gently©
When that TV ad aired in Charlotte, North Carolina, so many viewers wanted to see it again that it accumulated more than one million views on YouTube in less than 90 days.
So now you’re wondering why this style of improvised entertainment is called, “Making a Paper Cigar.”
When our oldest son, Rex, was in high school more than 20 years ago, he walked into class one day and realized, “Uh-oh, today is the day I’m supposed to present my term paper. What was the subject I was assigned?” He scratched his head a minute, then said, “Cuba. I’ve got to make a verbal presentation – with visual aids – on Cuba.”
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
He looked around and saw a few sheets of paper with some magic markers, so he rolled the paper into a cigar-sized cylinder, taped it, then colored it brown with a red tip. He wrote a couple of pages about sugar, cigars, and Fidel Castro, and when his name was called, strode to the front of the room with his cigar in his mouth and told the story of Cuba as Groucho Marx or W.C. Fields might have done.
The teacher gave him an A+ and led the class in a round of applause.
Entertainment is the only currency with which you can purchase the attention of a disinterested public.
Rex made a little bronze gargoyle to hold that paper cigar and gave it to me for Father’s Day. It sits on a shelf in my office at home.
Roy H. Williams
PS – You can watch both of those TV ads in the rabbit hole. – Indy Beagle
1 Teddy, on page 337 of the autobiography he wrote in 1913, says he learned this phrase from his friend, Squire Bill Widener, of Widener’s Valley, Virginia. Teddy departed this life in 1919. He was last seen crossing the sky in a chariot made of lightning pulled by horses of fire.
2 NOTE: Morris-Jenkins vigorously prosecutes copyright infringements. So I firmly but gennnnntly suggest that you be inspired and encouraged by these examples, but please make your own paper cigars.