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Direct Response Marketing

Hoover Takes Clean to New Extremes

1 Mar, 2012 By: Jackie Jones Response

Brian Kirkendall helps catapult the company into DRTV with “extreme demos” and a digital-age customer-acquisition strategy.

Before late-night infomercials and Internet upsells, back when the Hoover Co. was just a janitor with asthma, the floor-care company tapped into vintage direct response at its best — employing some of the first door-to-door salesmen, bringing together brand and consumer more so than ever before. Fast-forward 105 years, and it’s not just the products that have evolved and improved.

“There’s always been a bit of DR in the Hoover culture, and when I started at the company, delving into its marketing history inspired me to really look after it. Using Hoover brand-name recognition along with direct response strategy was really the perfect marriage,” says Brian Kirkendall, vice president of marketing at Glenwillow, Ohio-based Hoover. “The Hoover name gave our television advertising a reputable context, and DR gave us direct interaction with the consumer and established a standard of continued connection to consistently meet.”

While Kirkendall boasts a lengthy, impressive track record in brand marketing, direct response is a relatively new addition to his work portfolio. Before joining Hoover in July 2009, he worked at well-known companies including Black & Decker, The Scotts Co., Newell Rubbermaid, The Little Tikes Co. and The Step2 Co., where he formed the company’s first-ever marketing department. As the vice president of marketing at Hoover, he is in charge of all brand activity for the housewares giant.

“Everything from packaging and advertising, to trade shows and interacting directly with consumers, comes from us,” Kirkendall says. “If the consumer is going to see it, it comes from my team.”

A Century of Direct Response

A consumer-centric, direct response approach seems innate in the mindset of Hoover, which Techtronic Industries Co. Ltd. acquired from the Whirlpool Corp. in 2007. The company’s history dates back to 1907 when a janitor invented what he called a “suction sweeper” to help him cope with his asthma. A year later, he partnered with W.H. “Boss” Hoover, and the two launched the company’s first marketing campaign: an ad in the Saturday Evening Post offering consumers a free 10-day trial of their product. In a drive-to-retail move before its time, Hoover also paired with local department stores that sold directly to customers, with salespeople earning commission for each unit sold.

“Hoover, all the way back to the 1900s, has a history of direct marketing,” Kirkendall says. “We would sell door-to-door, initiate installment plans through local retailers where customers would pay $1 a week, run print ads in the ’20s and ’30s that pushed consumers to buy directly from us. Watching the wheels evolve over time, it’s really clear that DR is part of Hoover’s culture.”

Hoover’s latest foray into direct response comes alongside the company’s use of what it dubs “extreme demos.” Rather than focus on one product, the floor-care company paired with agency acquirgy to pioneer an overall strategy deemed “Hoover’s Dirty House,” which placed three of the company’s newest products — the Max Extract 60 Carpet Washer, TwinTank Steam Mop and WindTunnel Air Bagless Upright — in a reality-based, long-form setting. After a year of research, creative brainstorming and production, the first long-form DRTV ad debuted in January, with the two others following in February.

“We hadn’t done a lot of television advertising since the Whirlpool acquisition, but I knew coming into Hoover that I wanted to do DR,” Kirkendall says. “We talked about it a long time internally before even reaching out to agencies, and I saw some real obvious benefits: I wanted that direct connection with consumers, and I wanted consumers buying directly from Hoover to create that expectation, that promise that we as a company would need to uphold.”

“The vision was to execute a marketing campaign across several of their products reaffirming Hoover as the premier floor-cleaning company,” Steven Morvay, president of acquirgy, adds. “Unlike its competitors, Hoover has been around a very long time and its brand name is the hook that holds all the DR components together and provides a trustworthiness for consumers.”

Driving the ‘Dirt Team’

Hoover set up studio in a real house — “the world’s dirtiest,” the infomercials claim — to showcase the three products in a variety of unkempt situations, each more extreme than the next. The DR shows highlight some of the messiest challenges a homeowner can endure, and then some. Scenes include an Oriental rug being trashed with a mixture of yogurt, chocolate syrup, cola, green paint, sports drinks, chocolate milk, grape juice and a bottle of antacid all at the same time; puppies at a doggy day care doing their — ahem — business on a white carpet; and an adorable bloodhound named Abby trying to track the scent of a steak rubbed into carpet.

The Max Extract infomercial alone includes footage of Hoover’s “Dirt Team” rubbing everything from coffee grounds, dirt, peanut butter, ketchup and mustard, and grape juice into light-colored carpet, only to be no match for the Hoover technology. The marketing team had fun when it came time to brainstorm eye-catching, untraditional scenarios to dramatically showcase the products’ abilities.

Abby Hunting for Odors“We started dreaming up the craziest things we could think of cleaning. We made a long list of the most ridiculous messes we could imagine making and then showed Hoover could handle them,” Kirkendall says. “The idea behind such extreme demos was to really enforce for the consumer our products’ capabilities and bring it to life for them. If we show it can actually clean an automotive garage full of oil spills, or wipe out all trace of steak odor so much that a bloodhound can’t find it, of course it can clean grape juice off a kitchen floor or meet any other consumer demand.”

Hoover’s brand recognition is crucial to the DR shows’ success, according to Kirkendall. Wherever a call-to-action is — whether that is an 800-number or URL — the Hoover logo is displayed prominently nearby. Additionally, the Max Extract infomercial begins with a short overview of the company’s history, showing images of a Hoover product in use throughout every decade.

“We tested these shows on consumer groups without the Hoover name at first, and though they all said they were impressed with the product, few were motivated to buy,” Kirkendall notes. “But when adding the Hoover name, our credibility instantly rose. Without the Hoover name, we didn’t get the same reaction from consumers.”

Long-form DRTV not only provides the demonstrability needed to entice viewers into purchasing an item with a higher price point, but it also creates a unique avenue for Hoover to educate the market. Kirkendall, a hands-on type of businessman — he and his wife even test out new Hoover products themselves in their basement — says though people instinctively know there are things to do to keep your floor clean, long-form extreme demos help justify the category to potential customers in a more approachable, friendly manner.

“We did a 30-second spot for a carpet washer last year, and it did not make the user-conversion we were hoping for. You just can’t bring people into a new category with 30 or 60 seconds,” Kirkendall recalls. “People intuitively know their carpet needs a deep cleaning with soap, something more than a vacuum, but you need long-form to show people why it’s more economical to do it themselves rather than hire someone or rent a unit.”

For Kirkendall, the value in Hoover’s foray into direct response also lies in the aftermath. The campaign and the company’s work with acquirgy goes far beyond production and media, with a holistic emphasis on online elements including a proper microsite for consumers to visit, a supported paid-search program and commercial tracking capabilities, as well as an eventual push to retail.

In the short time the DR spots have been live, the response has exceeded the company’s expectations, Kirkendall says.

“We’ve been getting hundreds of calls from people giving their input or discussing the manual and their experience with the product, which is exactly what I was hoping for,” he says. “For whatever reason, they’re letting us know what they like and what we can improve on, and you just don’t get that intimacy between brand and consumer with traditional media.”

Continuing Down the DR Path

Continuing on the DR PathDR has been a learning process for Kirkendall, and one he is looking forward to continuing at Hoover.

“We did a long- and short-form campaign for the FloorMate, and it was a great learning experience for me coming into DR,” Kirkendall says. “It wasn’t a failure, but it was clear I was bringing brand marketing too much into the infomercial side of the business instead of vice versa. Moving forward, I knew we had to be more of a direct marketer and less of a brand marketer.”

Hoover’s work with direct response is far from done, and Kirkendall plans to continue working in DR far into the future.

“We took time to learn from past mistakes and really hone in on what Hoover wants to do with its marketing, what the vision is and how we want to pull it all together,” he says. “We never want to do a one-and-done campaign; it’s not how Hoover is wired.”

As Hoover continues to rake in success with its extreme demos, Kirkendall says there’s no shortage of rooms in its “dirty house” to work with in the future. The company is exploring new categories to enter into as a brand, and DR will continue to play a role in that.

“Long-form DRTV is the perfect advertising tactic to help break into a new category, and especially building off a brand people already love,” Kirkendall says. “Hoover is an inside-the-house kind of brand, and we think our work in DR puts us in a great position for more success.”

“When all the pieces of Hoover’s Dirty House — the TV ads, the Internet, the search campaign — are flowing together, the amount of knowledge we gain is going to make the next year at Hoover even better,” he adds. “So much of direct response advertising is new to me as someone coming from a brand background that I’m really looking forward to the continued rebirth of the campaign and to keep honing in on what’s working. There are more variables to play with, and the process and end result are very exciting to not only me, but to Hoover as a whole. DR has 100-percent support from the entire company, all the way up to the top.”

Brian Kirkendall, Vice President of Marketing, Hoover Glenwillow, Ohio

Biran Kirkendall Bio

  • Born: 1967
  • Hometown: Greensburg, Pa.
  • Resides: Hudson, Ohio
  • Family: Wife and two teenage sons
  • Education: B.S., business, University of North Carolina
  • Defining moment: “Meeting my wife.”
  • Greatest career accomplishment: “The success the people who have worked for me have had in their careers.”


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