As Housing Recovers, Benjamin Moore Boosts Ad Budget

Paint Company Evolves Brand Messaging, Moves Away From Do-It-Yourself Trend

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Main Street Matters: Benjamin Moore plans to repaint 20 towns as part of its latest campaign.
Main Street Matters: Benjamin Moore plans to repaint 20 towns as part of its latest campaign.

Main Street is getting a makeover thanks to Benjamin Moore. The 130-year-old paint company plans to repaint 20 American towns through its "Main Street Matters" campaign, while Chief Marketing Officer David Melancon gives the brand its own revamp.

While messaging around premium paint and service will continue, Benjamin Moore is adding the story of its Main Street roots and history of supporting independent retailers and stepping back from the do-it-yourself crowd in a bid to further distance itself from competitors. In the process, the company will increase its ad budget more than 60%. Benjamin Moore spent about $14 million on measured media last year, according to Kantar Media.

"It's the first time we're connecting the dots ... between who we are and how we act in our communities and how we actually sell our products," said Mr. Melancon, who became CMO in October following a consulting gig for the company.

With the beginnings of a housing recovery making headlines, Benjamin Moore's timing seems solid. The paints and coatings business totaled $22 billion in 2011 but is expected to increase to $30 billion by 2021, according to research from SBI Energy. Housing prices are up, as are home sales. And Advertising Age recently reported that shelter-magazine ad pages were up 8.7% in June.

The "Main Street" campaign includes a 30-second TV spot voiced by actor Brad Pitt, with whom Benjamin Moore has a long-standing partnership through the actor's Make it Right charity, which builds "healthy homes, buildings and communities" for people in need. Mr. Pitt's voice-over reminds viewers what matters about Main Street, noting, "drugstores that still make milkshakes with real ice cream, matter" and "three-story skyscrapers, matter."

David Melancon, CMO, Benjamin Moore
David Melancon, CMO, Benjamin Moore

The TV ad, along with print, radio, online and social media, created by Interpublic's Martin Agency, encourages people to go online to vote for their favorite downtown at PaintWhatMatters.com. Mr. Melancon said he intentionally chose small- and medium-size newspapers -- another kind of Main Street business Benjamin Moore wants to support -- running full-page ads to tout the contest.

Twenty towns will be chosen after voting is completed June 30. Benjamin Moore will work with its retailers, as well as local partners in each city, to professionally paint the selected Main Streets. They will film and document each of the projects, Mr. Melancon said, with an eye toward using the footage in future marketing and possibly a documentary. The campaign will continue through the next year.

Another aspect of Benjamin Moore's marketing shift is a move away from the do-it-yourself trend. Mr. Melancon said the brand has moved away from DIY TV, in particular.

"We're not even big DIY proponents. We certainly know that consumers use our paint, but our paint is paint that is best used by a professional or someone who paints like one," Mr. Melancon said. "Not that we're not selling to consumers. We know that the choice about which paint to use is made by the consumer when they're using a contractor or designer."

Mr. Melancon believes Benjamin Moore's high-end products and established industry reputation allow it to stand out from rivals. Select designer and retail partnerships also help differentiate the brand. It works with Candace Olson and home-improvement bloggers Sherry and John Petersik of Young House Love, as well as Target. More retailers and partners will be added in the next few months.

We are not a commodity. We're not playing in that space," Mr. Melancon said. "We sell great products through independent retailers and dealers around the U.S. and Canada, and we think that's a good story to tell. So that's what we're doing."

Mr. Melancon's hiring, along with the increased marketing budget and messaging shift, come on the heels of a CEO shakeup. The company has been a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary since 2000, but in June 2012, Berkshire Chairman-CEO Warren Buffett dismissed then-CEO Denis Abrams in a rare direct-management decision. Mr. Buffett later attributed the firing to a difference in opinions on distribution channels and brand strategy. New CEO-President Robert Merritt joined that same month, coming from Outback Steakhouse, where he served as senior VP-chief financial officer. In February, Benjamin Moore selected the Martin Agency, which is also the agency for Berkshire-owned Geico as its agency of record.

An e-commerce initiative that began under the old leadership has also changed under Mr. Merritt. Shoppers can still purchase paint online, but must pick it up at a local Benjamin Moore dealer. That way the more than 4,000 retailers not only get the business, but get shoppers into their stores.

"Everything that we do should in some way be attached to or work with all of the constituents we serve," Mr. Melancon said. "I call it social responsibility [with a] small "s' [and] small "r'. Serving our customers well with the best products, serving our communities well by being involved, and being a good corporate citizen, I think all of those things do contribute to the bottom line."

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