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Plumbing Web Connection Guest Column

Plumbing Giants Vie for Consumer Attention.
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 industry.

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 social campaign

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 now.

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 components:
•30- and 60-second ad campaigns
•A spokesperson relationship with TV personality Howie Mandel
•A digital/social campaign

Let’s break down each of the components individually.

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The Ads

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 are effective.

The Spokesperson

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.

The Digital/Social Campaign

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 engage consumers.

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 forever.

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 all.

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.


Ham-fisted storytelling

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 parties.

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 much?

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.

About Kleber & Associates
At Kleber & Associates, we focus exclusively on building materials sales and marketing. We build better brands that build better homes and buildings.
We don’t just work on building products. We specialize in them. With over 28 years experience, we know the industry.We know its trends and its trade shows.The key media contacts, gatekeepers and influencers. We even have the only Blogger Network dedicated exclusively to building materials marketing. For more informatin visit




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