||A Splash of Romance in the Search for Paint
Ace Hardware introduced an ad campaign last week for a new line of premium paints.
Called Clark+Kensington, the line combines paint and primer, comes in 120 colors and can be custom-tinted to almost any color. Although Ace Hardware, a retailer-owned cooperative based in Oak Brook, Ill., began selling the new private-label line last September, it is advertising it only now.
John Surane, Ace Hardware's senior vice president of merchandising, marketing, advertising and paint, said the cooperative wanted to reintroduce its paint department and increase awareness and consideration before the spring and summer painting seasons. To that end, the company ran a "Free Paint Saturday" this past Saturday, giving customers a free quart of the new paint in a color of their choice.
According to Mr. Surane, Ace Hardware's paint sales represent less than 5 percent of all paint sales in the United States; he said the cooperative wanted to double its market share by 2015. In addition to the Clark+Kensington line, Ace Hardware stores also sell another private-label brand, Royal, and some of its stores sell Benjamin Moore paints.
Another incentive for adding the new line, said Kent Furst, senior analyst for Freedonia Group, a research company in Cleveland, is that paint production "has a much higher profit margin than Ace's normal retail business." He said, "It makes sense that they would want to expand that."
The company also has "excess paint manufacturing capacity with the recession, since the demand for paint in the United States has declined in the last couple of years," he added.
The new campaign -- created by GSD&M, which is based in Austin, Tex. and has been Ace's agency since 2009 -- is a playful variation on Ace Hardware's longstanding tagline that calls its retailers "the helpful hardware store." Thus, a 30-second TV spot depicts a woman at the paint chip wall of an Ace store. She tells the salesman she is "looking for purple. But not like my favorite dress in college kind of purple."
As she continues, the Ace salesman looks at eight men in a lineup, each in a different shade of purple from head to toe. As the woman says she is looking for a purple "kind of like it's raining, only it's raining way, way, way, way, way over there purple...know what I mean?" the salesman motions all but one of the men away. He says to the customer, "Yeah, you want the color, but you don't want to be smothered by it...something you can live with for a long time." The narrator then says, "Find your soul paint at Ace."
A print ad shows a woman clutching a man, painted and dressed in burnt orange, on a motorcycle. The copy says: "She found her soul paint, Crouching Tiger 4022...you'll find a harmonious color palette...not to mention help from people who really know their stuff. All so you can finally find that perfect color you can live with for a long time."
There is similar banner advertising, some of which promotes the paint giveaway.
Television and online advertising began last Wednesday. The advertising is running on cable channels like HGTV and network programs like "CSI," "Shark Tank" and "Dateline," as well as on Web sites like RealSimple.com, MSN.com and HomeAway.com.
Online ads will run through August, while the TV spot will run through the fall. Print ads will run in March through May issues of magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and InStyle.
All ads refer viewers to Ace Hardware's Facebook page for more than 30 humorous videos of interviews with people who personify the new Clark+Kensington shades.
According to Dana Larsen, a brand manager for Ace Hardware, the new advertising, which is "all about romance," is meant to appeal to women 25 to 44, "who are the primary drivers in the selection of color."
"Women make the color decision. They're the ones who struggle with it; they want to not have to make it again for a long time," she added.
Duff Stewart, president and chief executive of GSD&M, which is part of the Omnicom Group, said big retailers like Home Depot and Lowe's "operate with lots of choices, and consumers are left to their own devices, there's no one there to help." But at neighborhood Ace stores, he said, "the owner-associate has a much more personal relationship with consumers. They help consumers choose what's right for them through guidance and validation. By having someone help in the process, they give great paint."
Founded in 1934, Ace Hardware now has 4,500 stores worldwide, 4,100 of them in the United States. Mr. Surane said Ace Hardware's paint advertising expenditures will increase 20 percent in 2012 versus 2011. According to Kantar Media, the company spent $49.2 million on all advertising in 2010, including $41.3 million from January through September; it said expenditures were $34.6 million in the same period of 2011.
Jack Horst, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates, called the paint category "the only one I can think of in the hardware business that creates an emotional attachment between the customer and the retailer." He said, "With most hardware items, who cares? But paint is a really personal, emotional thing."
The new campaign, he added, "is a real clever way of attracting people to the store in a category that has the possibility of driving much deeper and emotional attachment to the rest of Ace."
Barbara E. Kahn, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, praised the campaign's push to simplify the paint choice process.
"Choosing from a large assortment of options can be difficult," she said, "and even more difficult if there are many items within the assortment that are very similar to each other. Anything that can make the decision process more inviting and less intimidating is bound to help."
Although paint sales might be suffering because of the soft real estate market, she said they could be helped by the "lipstick or nail polish effect: if I can't afford to move, I can afford to paint a room."
(Source: The New York Times, 03/01/12)
How You Can Make Money:
It may come as something of a surprise, but Ace has a terrific co-op program; and paint is one of the richest co-op categories in existence. Of course, you know there has to be a catch: Ace is one of the trickiest co-op programs for an account executive to access. The company is hyper-vigilant about not receiving inquiries from station sales representatives directly. So, develop a relationship with your Ace store managers. They will have to pursue the co-op dollar availability for their store directly from the Ace corporate office or via their Regional or District Managers. And don't stress too terribly if you can't get to the information in time for this particular promotional push; Autumn is the next prime season for paint.
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