The plumbing category is a bit
of a conundrum. On one hand, brands in this space are fairly
reliant on contractors and designers to influence consumers
because, let’s be honest, homeowners don’t buy toilets or
faucets very often.
On the other hand, the plumbing category has some of the
strongest consumer brands in the entire building products
So when two of the industry’s giants start making some noise
with consumer-oriented campaigns, it could be a sign of
increased confidence. There has certainly been an uptick in
consumer spending on remodeling and home improvement, and
these companies want to get their share.
How effective their respective approaches are, however, is
up for debate.
American Standard uses a celebrity spokesperson and
Every now and then, a company comes out with a
why-didn’t-someone-think-of-that-earlier innovation. A
product that fits such an obvious need that everyone has
that it’s sure to be a hit, yet no one thought of it until
American Standard has done it with their ActiClean
self-cleaning toilet. And in the hallways and conference
rooms of plumbing fixture manufacturers around the world,
executives and engineers are now doomed to playing catch-up.
That is, if the ActiClean really works. But we’re not here
to discuss that. We’ll leave that to others.
We want to discuss the marketing campaign American Standard
is employing to launch the ActiClean. After all, if you have
an innovative, no-brainer of a product, messing up the
marketing is like missing a two-foot putt.
For the most part, we think American Standard has done well
with their launch. The campaign consists of two main
•30- and 60-second ad campaigns
•A spokesperson relationship with TV personality Howie
•A digital/social campaign
Let’s break down each of the components individually.
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The ad campaign, while not terribly clever, uses a
universal situation that nearly every homeowner can
relate to: the drop-in visit from the parents/in-laws.
In real life, it may not always be the parents/in-laws,
but the fact is that any unscheduled visit can catch
homeowners, shall we say, with their pants down when it
comes to the cleanliness of their toilets. This, of
course can lead to an embarrassing situation.
The solution, of course, is ActiClean. The toilet cleans
itself within a minute, and your parents will never know
what a slob you are.
The ads do a good job in presenting a situation nearly
anyone can identify with, and to that end we think they
Celebrity spokespeople are a bit of a double-edged
sword. Sure, they can get you widespread attention very
easily. But today’s consumers are wise to the fact that
endorsers are highly paid, and often view these
arrangements with a skeptical eye.
Still, this can be overcome by choosing the right
spokesperson. American Standard did a good job in this
area, as Howie Mandel, a noted germaphobe, fits right
into one of the key benefits of the product.
You don’t have to be a germaphobe to be grossed out by
the idea of cleaning a toilet. Mandel, and his
exaggerated version of the germaphobe in all of us, is a
great fit for the ActiClean.
Great, but not perfect. His performance in the
digital videos comes off a bit insincere and
inauthentic. His on-stage approach is decidedly
over-the-top and not nuanced at all, and as a result we
get the sense he’s more excited about the check he’s
receiving than the product itself.
This is where the relationship with Mandel really pays off.
American Standard smartly used him for more than extolling
the virtues of the product. They are also using him to
Through the campaign, consumers can upload a video of them
explaining why they need an ActiClean toilet. From all who
participate, a winner will be chosen and Madel himself will
show up at their house to deliver the toilet.
This is a smart campaign because it generates a tremendous
amount of engagement on social media. Every time someone
uploads a video and shares it on Facebook, ActiClean is
exposed to all of their friends.
And when you have a product that almost everyone could use,
that’s a good thing.
Overall, we are impressed with American Standard’s campaign
to introduce the ActiClean. We wish Mandel were a little
more genuine, but there may not be a better person to
endorse this product than him.
But seriously, why hasn’t anyone thought of this until now?
We have self-cleaning ovens and autonomous vacuum cleaners,
and we seem to be on the brink of self-driving cars.
What an embarrassment it would have been if the self-driving
cars were introduced before ActiClean.
Moen tries to tell a story, but skips the storytelling
A young father gives his newborn son a bath in the kitchen
sink. Soft music plays as his soothing voice narrates, as if
he’s talking to the audience while staying calm for the
child’s sake. Irresistible images of the boy, adoringly
gazing at his father, who smiles and gazes back, trying to
capture this fleeting, precious moment in his memory
The scene above is from one of
Moen’s latest ad, which you would think would be tough
to criticize, what with the baby and the memory making and
Well, here goes.
Moen is going full-tilt emotional in this ad, using one of
the most tried-and-true devices in advertising, babies.
Along with puppies, kittens, and just about any furry
creature, babies are are a sure-fire way to win the hearts
of your audience, especially if they’re women.
But, of course, it’s not enough to have a few babies or a
basket of puppies in your ad. These days, you need to tell a
story. You need to be genuine and tug at the heartstrings of
your audience. And few things make a woman’s heart swell
like a tiny baby and his dad sharing a moment.
In Moen’s ad, the imagery is magical. The casting is spot
on. The music sets just the right tone. But this ad missed
the mark in a big way.
The voice-over narration goes like this:
“Some people choose Moen faucets for their lifetime
warranty. Others buy them for their modern design. I bought
Moen for father-son bonding time.”
First of all, blech!
Does anyone really believe that this new dad, or anyone for
that matter, would have “father-son bonding time” on his
mind when staring at the faucet display in Home Depot or
Lowe’s? It sounds more like he’s trying to score points with
his wife so she won’t mind if he goes out to shoot pool with
the fellas when the bath is done.
But more importantly, the clunky narration doesn’t fit the
stunning visual story that unfolds in front of us. The first
two things you hear are the obligatory mentions of Moen’s
lifetime warranty and modern design. Just like that, the
moment is ruined!
Put the story first
What would have made this ad immeasurably better is if the
narrator told us a story about what we were seeing. New
fathers are almost always awestruck by the profundity of
their new role, and those moments when they connect with
their kids through activities like bathing them in the
kitchen sink are indeed magical and important for both
So why didn’t we hear about that? What’s the baby’s name?
How old is he? Is this the first time he’s getting a bath
from his dad? What’s going through the dad’s mind as he
gently cleans his child? Why does he enjoy this moment so
The answers to any of those questions could form the basis
of the few lines of voice-over in the ad. Even if it’s
fictional, it’s universal enough that few people who see the
ad would not understand.
Or, better yet, what if there were no voice-over at all?
Just the beautiful images and sounds of the moment. The
audience would fill in their own narration, and that might
be even more powerful.
Instead, we get a tired cliche’ (father-son bonding time) to
tell us what we can plainly see, and claims about warranty
and design that we can hear from any brand.
If it would have put the story first and the brand in the
background, this ad could have been truly outstanding.