On April 1 ESPN2 will run what at first glance appears to be "Frozen Lake," the classic DieHard car-battery commercial from the 1970s, but with a twist: It's pitching DieHard alkaline batteries, and the car on the lake is a remote-controlled toy.
This is not an April Fool's Day prank. The folks at DieHard are dead serious about making a run at the alkaline-battery category, despite seemingly long odds.
One strike is having a brand associated with its parent, embattled retailer Sears Holdings, and corporate sibling Kmart. Another is entering a category that has faced persistent growth challenges in recent years, against two big-spending national competitors: Procter & Gamble Co.'s Duracell and Energizer Holdings' eponymous bunny-backed brand.
The "Frozen Lake" ad, in which a car left in the cold for an extended period starts up instantly thanks to its DieHard battery, was a staple of sports programming in the 1970s and seemed like a natural for Y&R, Chicago, to pop into an ad for alkaline batteries.
DieHard has had alkalines as private labels in Sears and Kmart stores for years and launched the brand for batteries in other retailers last year. It is ramping up ad support this spring with print, online and in-store support to follow the TV ad.
DieHard alkalines are now distributed in more than 10,000 stores outside Sears affiliates, including True Value and other hardware stores. The brand can offer retailers margins sufficient to replace their private-label batteries, according to George Kurkowski, DieHard's director of brand management."This is the most trusted, respected and preferred automotive battery for consumers," Mr. Kurkowski said, adding that the TV spot would reinforce their memories and tap the automotive brand's latent equity.
"We are the underdog, but I think our brand resonates better than [Rayovac]," said DieHard General Manager Chris Caruso. Its alkalines are priced similarly to Rayovac's, for example, but offer better performance than leading brands, he said.
Alkaline is just a "starting point" as DieHard prepares to roll out other small-cell batteries using different technologies, Mr. Caruso said.
The category is $1.1 billion, according to SymphonyIRI. That figure excludes data from Walmart, club, dollar, Sears and hardware stores, so sales are most likely at least twice that .
DieHard's original "Starts on a Frozen Lake" ad from the 1970s: