Updated on October 23, 2017
Savvy Business Move – Company Gives Away an AR-15 with Every Roof
“If your stories are all about your products and services, that’s not storytelling. It’s a brochure. Give yourself permission to make the story bigger.” – Jay Baer
With a limited marketing budget, Zach Blenkinsopp needed to look for a creative way to spread the word about his roofing company, Digital Roofing Innovations in Decatur, Alabama. That’s why the Navy veteran came up with a promotion where customers who hire Digital Roofing Innovations for roof jobs will also get a free AR-15 once the job is finished.
I first heard about the deal and the now viral ad that Blenkinsopp created after reading some of the backlash about it. As expected, anti-gun activists have been appalled at the idea of a business owner giving away “assault rifles” to his customers, even though what Blenkinsopp is doing is completely legal.
To me, this is simply a case of incredibly smart marketing. Let’s take a look at the ad itself to start.
The production value is certainly lacking, and if I saw this running on TV, I’d wonder what the company was thinking.
For an online ad, though, the ad does its job, and even though the sound quality isn’t great, you can understand everything Blenkinsopp says.
If there’s one way to describe this ad, it’s completely over the top. Blenkinsopp steps out of his car puffing on a cigar dressed in boots, American flag socks, tight American flag shorts, bandanas on his head and arms, a cowboy hat and a large red bowtie.
He’s puffing on a cigar, which he immediately sets on the hood of the car. He later drinks what appears to be a beer and whiskey, and he simply says “rifle” when he wants a gun thrown to him. He talks about Trump, bashes recycling and ends the video by firing off a few rounds.
To top it off, Blenkinsopp began the promotion on the 4th of July. There’s no better day to run a “free AR-15” ad than Independence Day, but there’s also another reason why this was a smart move. The peak season for roofing companies is towards the end of summer and early fall. Starting the promotion in July will drum up interest for the company at the perfect time.
“Over the top” was a good strategy for a promotion like this. Despite the attention he’s getting, Blenkinsopp is far from the first business owner to run a free guns promotion for his customers. It has been done quite a few times in the past, which means if Blenkinsopp wanted his promotion to stand out, he had to take it to the next level. Going the all-American route got his ad more exposure than it would have if he took a generic approach.
As far as the backlash is concerned, there’s a couple important points that many of the commenters are missing because they didn’t dig deeper into this offer. Most importantly, Blenkinsopp isn’t just tossing a customer an AR-15 after the job is done. Every customer who wants the AR-15 must go through a background check first, which means only those who could legally own an AR-15 can get one through this promotion.
Even after the customer passes the background check, Blenkinsopp doesn’t actually give them an AR-15. Instead, he gives them a $500 voucher for use at the nearby Cypress Creek Indoor Gun Range, and they get that after paying for the roofing job. Today, $500 doesn’t quite cover a new AR-15 off the shelf, at current AR prices, it gets you pretty darn close to other AR-15s for sale.
Of course, many commenters didn’t get the memo about the background check or the voucher. One commenter named Ray Shackleford went so far to say that Blenkinsopp is helping his customers kill people, which is about as ridiculous and irresponsible a statement as it gets. Blenkinsopp is a business owner running a promotion. I found this image of Zach in normal dress attire:
Tim Efferson commented on how customers can “get a free, unregistered AR from a half-naked drunk dude.” It seems like he added the word “unregistered” to make this seem like an even more dangerous proposition, but the state of Alabama doesn’t require the registration of any guns.
Another commenter, Alan Foster, wrote that he wouldn’t trust Blenkinsopp on his roof because of a lack of professionalism. Although I believe the criticisms of this “free AR-15” promotion are silly, I can see why some people wouldn’t want Blenkinsopp working on their roofs based on this ad.
Even though there’s no way to tell whether Blenkinsopp is drinking while handling weapons, it’s heavily implied. His demeanor can be abrasive in the video, and it’s no surprise that certain viewers are turned off by that. He doesn’t project professionalism, and if a roofer acted exactly like Blenkinsopp does in this video while on a job, customers may not be happy with him.
Reading up on Blenkinsopp, though, provides ample evidence that any worries of unprofessional behavior are unfounded. The man was in the Navy for eight years, and now he’s a successful business owner who hasn’t been in any trouble with the law. His company has excellent reviews on Facebook and Yelp, indicating that Blenkinsopp is someone who can be trusted on a roof.
The way Blenkinsopp acts in the video is Marketing 101. Even though he says it’s not a gimmick, there is a bit of a gimmicky element to it. Blenkinsopp is playing a character to get people interested in his company. I can all but guarantee that in his daily life, Blenkinsopp doesn’t drink one sip of beer and then toss the can into the grass. He probably wouldn’t get many barbecue invitations, and no true American wants to waste beer. I doubt he’s wearing the outfit from this commercial to his roofing jobs. And I don’t think he’s walking around yelling out commands like “rifle” and “whiskey” whenever he wants something thrown to him.
The Blenkinsopp we see in the commercial is a larger-than-life American action figure. When I see a Geico commercial, I don’t think to myself “How unprofessional, I’d never want a gecko handling my car insurance,” because that’s just a character used in the commercial to sell the product.
The style of this ad isn’t for everyone. Even members of the pro-gun crowd could find Blenkinsopp’s behavior excessive or dislike the implied alcohol consumption. But no matter how many people this ad angers, it’s a success. As the saying goes, any PR is good PR. As the “AR-15 went viral”, it brought an incredible amount of exposure to Digital Roofing.
It’s better for a business to have people who feel passionately about it on both sides than to be firmly in the middle and have no one interested in it. Digital Roofing Innovations could have stayed in that middle ground and gotten little, if any, attention. Instead, it took the more controversial approach, and it has paid off. Now the business has a group of fervent supporters who love its style. It has gained multiple customers already because of the ad. It has the anti-gun crowd upset, but the old adage “any publicity is good publicity” has been proven true time and time again.
When people post their criticisms, it only keeps the business in the news, leading to more potential customers finding out about it. A quick search for the business’s name brings up more media attention than it has ever gotten before, just based on this one promotion that probably cost under $100 to film and release.
At the end of the day, the way Blenkinsopp and his business handled its promotion isn’t what angers these anti-gun crusaders. That crowd just wants to see Second Amendment rights taken away entirely. They see the words “free AR-15” and their knee-jerk reaction is to criticize the business owner, even though his promotion is 100-percent legal and it requires the customer to go through the same background checks he would need to pass if he was buying the gun without a voucher.
Blenkinsopp received more than the standard anti-gun comments. Somewhat ironically, he had some people referring to him as a backwoods redneck for obvious reasons, and others calling him gay because of how he was dressed. For his part, Blenkinsopp has said that he’s an educated, well-traveled man with friends of many different backgrounds and lifestyles, supporting the idea that he is only acting in his ad.
He received some criticism for throwing a beer can into the grass on the side of the road and saying that recycling is stupid. I understand where these people are coming from, but it’s important to realize that this was done in jest. There are plenty of people out there who don’t recycle, but I’ve yet to meet someone who is actually against the act of recycling. Viewers should keep in mind that this is an ad. The whole point was attention, and Blenkinsopp used humor to do so. There’s no reason to take a few jokes so seriously.
Overall, I’d say that Blenkinsopp did an excellent job with his marketing strategy. He’s effectively offering a $500 discount on roofing jobs, which can often cost $10,000 or more. And if he set up a deal with the shooting range to send business their way, those vouchers may not even be costing him the full $500. It’s a small price to pay, and his company is still likely making a solid profit and gaining a ton of free press in the process.
There’s also the fact that his business is located in Alabama, a conservative state. Digital Roofing Innovations may be getting criticism from people online who have an irrational fear of lawful gun owners, but in its home state, the reaction is much more positive.