Building Box hits hard with Hammer Head

So what's the story?...

So what’s the story?

To promote its entry into the Ontario marketplace, home improvement chain The Building Box has launched an aggressive branding campaign, conceived by Toronto-based BBDO Canada.

The message: The Building Box – which is owned and operated by Quebec’s Réno-Dépôt – offers more selection, more service and more value than any other retailer in the category. The tagline: ‘There’s more in the Box.’ The spokesperson: a giant, talking hammer.

Hammer Head (yep, that’s his name) first hit the small screen in mid-November, in a teaser ad that showed him interviewing for and – despite a lack of experience – actually landing a job at a Building Box store.

A series of three 30-second spots followed at the end of the month, timed to coincide with the opening of the chain’s first two Ontario locations. In these ads, Hammer Head proves himself both annoying and clumsy, taking out chandeliers in the lighting department and setting fire to the display kitchen while cooking banana bread. A voice-over says, ‘Thousands more home improvement items. One really stupid mascot.’

The TV campaign ran at heavy weights in mainstream programs such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and The Tonight Show. Hammer Head has also run wild in radio and print ads, and the retailer is giving thought to employing him as a key greeter on its Web site (

Scott Dube, vice-president, group creative director with BBDO, says the character is a logical extension of The Building Box logo, which features – you guessed it – a big hammer. ‘He is your branding, in a sense,’ Dube says. ‘Because he’s wearing it as he’s talking about the store.’

Sylvain Toutant, the retailer’s vice-president of marketing and merchandising, says viewers can expect a second batch of TV ads, in which Hammer Head’s co-workers will begin to warm up to him. ‘You’ll see a whole evolution of this guy,’ he says. ‘He’s going to be around for many years.’

Gee, can’t wait. Is this category really so crowded that an annoying mascot is the only way to grab attention?

Ontario’s home improvement market is fiercely competitive, says Steve Boase, a consultant with Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group. While Home Depot is the dominant player, all of Canada’s other major operators – Réno-Dépôt, Rona and Revy – are looking to establish a stronger presence.

‘They [The Building Box] definitely need something to break away from the clutter,’ he says. ‘Whether the mascot is the right way to do it is another question.’

Toutant, for his part, says the purpose of the ads was to get noticed – and while it’s too early to have any hard numbers, he believes they are doing their job.

Jack Neary, executive vice-president and chief creative officer with BBDO, agrees. ‘We think it’s the absurdity of Hammer Head that differentiates this from what other large-format home improvement stores are doing,’ he says.

Other competitors in this category tend to employ shiny, happy pitchmen, Neary points out. But The Building Box realized that consumers would probably tune out yet another campaign boasting about superior selection and prices.

Hammer Head gets the message across in a less obvious way, Neary says. While the overzealous mascot does indeed trumpet the retailer’s virtues, his silliness distances him from management.

Won’t the guy in the hammer suit turn off customers?

Sure, the advertising gets attention, Boase says. ‘[But] the guy’s an idiot. Is that really going to instill confidence in the consumer?’

There are two kinds of customer in the home improvement sector, he points out – those who know exactly what they’re doing, and those who rely on the help of sales associates because they don’t know. And this campaign ‘isn’t going to make those latter people feel very comfortable.’

Toutant is quick to acknowledge that the strategy is risky. But he says consumers are smart enough to understand the point behind the tongue-in-cheek humour.

Besides, he says, viewers expect entertainment from TV advertising. ‘If I want to learn something serious about a company, I’ll read an article. But if I’m having a drink while watching television, it had better be funny or I won’t pay attention.’

The BBDO creative guys also stand up for Hammer Head.

‘Consumers aren’t meant to empathize with him,’ Neary says. ‘You’re actually empathizing with the other shoppers in the ad, the ones he torments.’

Dube, for his part, says the brand message – ‘there’s more in the Box’ – is communicated very clearly in the ads. It just happens to come from a guy in a hammer suit, rather than a sales associate in an apron.

Right. Any danger we’re gonna run into this hammer guy in the, um, flesh next time we visit The Building Box?

It would make sense to follow through on the brand campaign by having Hammer Head make appearances at stores and local events, Boase says. That’s what U.S. retailer Best Buy does with the walking price ticket that serves as its mascot, he notes.

While The Building Box is considering the possibility of taking Hammer Head to community events, Toutant says they’ll avoid getting carried away. The store’s core target, after all, is dual-income baby boomer homeowners, not five-year-old children. ‘Hammer Head won’t be as present as Ronald McDonald,’ he says.

Still, Neary is certain he’ll show up on location from time to time. There are, after all, some extra foam hammer suits just lying around. ‘He can walk around the stores and hopefully annoy people,’ he says.