In the dead of winter, in early January, the Maytag repairman packed his bags and caught a flight to Toronto.
The iconic blue-capped spokesman, known for his shtick of having nothing to do, was given a job: building a Canadian message for the brand of home appliances in this market.
His trip here was to film a series of spots that launch on Monday and involve an unusual sponsorship of an entire evening of CBC programming. One night a week will now be branded "Maytag Mondays." While other advertisers will also take up 30-second spots between episodes of Coronation Street and Mr. D, the appliance brand will name the night, and have a series of spots integrating CBC programming into its marketing (
It's all part of Maytag's effort to create a Canadian identity, a push that became necessary last year when its U.S.-based parent company chose a new brand positioning that did not exactly resonate north of the border.
"They're focusing on the fact that the product is made in the U.S.," said Valerie Malone, the Canadian senior brand manager for Whirlpool Corp., which owns the Maytag brand. "They're doing that because they're under extreme competitive pressure in that marketplace. It didn't work for us."
With Maytag taking this angle in the U.S., the brand here needed a Canadian solution. And it's a case that offers an example of a challenge facing many brands: how to create a targeted campaign on a tight budget when a global marketing strategy does not work for a regional audience. For Maytag in Canada, what would become a major CBC partnership this year began last spring with just 10 seconds. Last year, Ms. Malone turned to media buyer MediaCom Canada, which suggested the most Canadian arena possible for its message: the Stanley Cup playoffs. But all that was left in the inventory of ad space was a handful of 10-second gaps, just one for each Hockey Night in Canada playoff broadcast.
The spots gave Maytag the perfect position: the fact that hockey is part of the Canadian identity, as well as the knowledge that an event like the playoffs inspires family viewing. Since the debut three years ago of a new measure for television ratings in Canada (which tracks numbers viewer-by-viewer as opposed to using a set-top box on the TV set) the numbers have shown more women are watching sports programming than has ever been accounted for before.
"No home appliance manufacturer had everadvertised in Hockey Night in Canada," said MediaCom director of content Anthony Hello. "We knew we'd get moms' eyes."
Using the 10-second slivers of time, Maytag introduced quick spots that incorporated CBC brand placement to emphasize the Canadian angle: It showed a hockey team coming off the ice and throwing their jerseys (branded with the Hockey Night in Canada logo) into a Maytag Maxima washer. Sales of the Maxima in Canada doubled while the campaign was on air.
"Our insight from last year became the founding positioning principle for Maytag this year: The home team depends on mom, and mom depends on Maytag," Mr. Hello said.
The Canadian campaign's results led the company to redouble its efforts this year. It has made a significant investment to sponsor the entire night of programming. To expand the Canadian halo that CBC programming confers on the brand, the Maytag man filmed integrated commercials – including a 15-second spot with him watching television alongside comedian Gerry Dee of Mr. D. And since it would have been a bit difficult to transport him to Coronation Street, the repairman brews a cuppa in a brand-stocked kitchen to the strains of the famous Corrie theme song. He will be coming to Canada again in the coming months to film more integrated spots.
Hockey will once again be a pillar of the campaign as well. The hockey jersey commercial will run again. And during the playoffs this year, an integrated contest will launch with four 30-second spots on Hockey Night in Canada called "Dependable Lines." Viewers can enter the contest by choosing their fantasy hockey lineup of NHL players past and present, for a chance to win one of the "dependable line" of appliances.
Sponsorship of an entire night of programming is still a relative rarity for the network, said Gaye McDonald, director of marketing for CBC's revenue group. But the brand integration this campaign uses is the type of extra push past the traditional 30-second spot advertisers are asking for more often.
"We are getting asked every day by our agencies who are our clients – because they are asked on a regular basis by their clients [the advertisers]– to come up with innovative new opportunities," Ms. McDonald said.
It's important for the TV networks too, which are fighting for a share of advertisers' tight budgets.
"It's becoming more and more that we're seeing stations really play such a big role," said Christine McArthur, account director at Toronto agency Red Lion, which produced some of the commercials for the campaign (
"From an advertising budgeting standpoint, you're getting more bang for your buck by taking an approach like this, just with the ability to associate with so many different properties in a way that is culture-specific," MediaCom's Mr. Hello said.
And there was some cultural overlap. Clay Jackson – the latest American actor to take on the role of the Maytag repairman (a full-time job) – is a fan of Dragons' Den's U.S. adaptation Shark Tank, and he was excited to meet Kevin O'Leary while at the CBC.
But those involved in the campaign discovered there is one part of the brand message that does not quite ring true. In person, the repairman is tall, strapping, and much more handsome than the frumpy uniform makes him appear, Ms. McDonald said, laughing.
"I don't think he's lonely."