Appliance category bets on lifestyle over attributes

Sigmund Freud may have puzzled over what women want. But the marketers behind Whirlpool home appliances believe they've cracked the conundrum....

Sigmund Freud may have puzzled over what women want. But the marketers behind Whirlpool home appliances believe they’ve cracked the conundrum.

In fact, they’re betting the $5-million budget for their current Canadian campaign that the elusive answer to Freud’s question can be effectively delivered by a team of radiant goddesses.

‘It’s all about the empowerment [of female buyers],’ says Paul Bognar, Canadian director of marketing for Mississauga, Ont.-based Inglis, which distributes the 45-year-old Whirlpool brand in Canada.

The campaign, which includes television, print and outdoor, is a striking departure from what has long been the norm in appliance advertising. Rather than emphasize product features and benefits, the ads employ fanciful, evocative imagery – in this case, a quartet of female deities representing water, fire, wind and ice – to suggest the power of Whirlpool products and create more of an emotional link between the brand and its target consumers.

‘Traditional appliance advertising implied that housewives should stay home and do the laundry and cook and clean,’ Bognar says. ‘But our goddess ads say no way. Women today are either working moms or stay-at-home moms with all kinds of other stuff they prefer to be doing. Our imagery is saying the appliances will do the work, so that they can do other things.’

Bognar says the advertising was conceived and developed by Publicis in Paris, then reworked for North America by the agency’s Chicago and Toronto offices.

The Whirlpool campaign signals a shift in thinking within at least some quarters of the home appliance industry. With growing parity among manufacturers with respect to product features and price points, identities can start to blur.

To build awareness and loyalty, the rationale goes, appliance makers must invest more in pure branding messages that establish a connection with consumers by evoking the ideal lifestyle to which they aspire.

Whirlpool isn’t the only major appliance brand to adopt this strategy. Korean manufacturer LG Electronics has taken a very similar approach with its ‘Mankind’ campaign, which is currently running in the Canadian marketplace.

The company, which introduced the LG line of stylish refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners to Canada this past spring, is spending $5 million on branding efforts in this market. In addition to television, the campaign includes print ads in consumer and retail trade publications.

The spot for LG is, if possible, even more abstract than Whirlpool’s effort. Music video-style quick cuts and fast fades mingle images of home appliances with romantic shots of people enjoying sylvan glades, mountain landscapes and the view from atop a city skyscraper. These are accompanied by written and spoken words such as ‘effortless,’ ‘vigilance,’ ‘sensitive’ and ‘intelligence,’ and the whole spectacle is set to a lilting cello track.

To assemble the spot, Toronto-based Goodgoll Curtis cut and pasted elements from a corporate ad produced by the client’s Korean head office. Then they inserted product shots, along with images of recognizably Canadian landmarks, such as the Rocky Mountains and Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

The basic principle behind all of this isn’t really new, says Goodgoll Curtis president Ted Nation.

‘There’s an expression in our business that the emotional opens the heart and the rational closes the sale,’ he says. ‘So, in a soothing, almost Zen-like manner, we’re trying to connect people and the needs of their lifestyle and the way they feel about themselves to appliances, which are very much part of their lives.’

Neither Whirlpool nor Mississauga, Ont.-based LG can cite specific market research to support the move toward pure branding messages. But both insist their logic is rock-solid, and that they’re being showered with positive feedback from consumers and retailers.

Robert Donnelly, Canadian marketing manager for LG Electronics, says his company targets a younger demographic than appliance marketers traditionally pursue (consumers aged 25-44) – and the advertising is designed to appeal to their particular sensibilities.

‘If everything we presume about Generation X’s buying habits is true, it should hit them fairly squarely on the top of the noggin,’ he says.

As for Whirlpool, Bognar says the ‘goddess’ campaign was introduced in Europe about eight years ago, and has proved a smashing success there. ‘It elevated our brand from virtual anonymity in the market to the top spot in just three years.’

Still, not everyone’s convinced that this kind of brand messaging is the best way to sell home appliances. Scott Mustard, Western Canadian sales manager for Mississauga, Ont.-based Frigidaire Home Products, says his company ‘doesn’t feel that that this type of leading-edge creative would give us and our retail partners the best return.’

Ditto for Markham, Ont.-based Hamilton Beach Proctor-Silex Canada.

Kevin Brady, president of Toronto-based Anderson, which handles advertising for the company’s home appliances, says a focus on functionality and features is still the way to go.

‘We are using non-traditional vignettes, [such as] a chicken talking on-camera about how fast it cooked in our stove,’ he says. ‘But we think the major thing is to get the benefits message across in an entertaining and informative style.’