Inside the Work: Rubbermaid gets stylish

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If Americans are eating in more, staying home more and nesting more, then a buoyant campaign for Newell Rubbermaid Corp.'s venerable line of Rubbermaid plastic storage tubs has arrived just in time.

Three spots from Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, the first broadcast work for the brand in years, aim to make the Felix Ungar delights both functional and hip.

The campaign broke in late September with a snappy choreographed spot titled "Musical Tools" that promotes a storage device for the garage. It features denim-clad dancers brandishing rakes, brooms and shovels, doing a sort of musical-chairs number around the product. The action takes place against a seamless yellow background as a percussive soundtrack, composed using actual Rubbermaid products as instruments, keeps time.

A second spot promotes the brand's bread-and-butter line of Seal `N Saver food-storage containers, and there are no shots of fresh tuna salad or burping lids in this ad. Instead, a sultry, dark-haired woman goes after a spaceship-looking pinata made entirely of containers. She batters it and eventually breaks it apart, but the Seal `N Savers don't spill a drop of their contents.

The final spot is a mix of live action and computer animation in which rolls of gift-wrap come alive and fill the screen in serpentine twists and turns. They're finally brought home to roost in a new product called the Wrap `N Craft, a cask retailing for about $10 that stores wrapping paper neatly and comes with a compartment for tape and scissors.

Each spot is shot in a richly saturated hue somewhat reminiscent of commercials produced for the retailer Target (produced primarily by Peterson Milla Hooks, Minneapolis). Was the Rubbermaid work at all influenced by this?

"It was probably in the back of our minds," said Steve Ohler, group creative director. "Target takes everyday objects and makes them look fun and cool. Our feeling is that the perception of Rubbermaid products has lagged behind what they really are, so we've tried to bring back some zip."

As for the high-styled look of the campaign, Mr. Ohler said the client "pushed us to make it more stylish." As well it should. Rubbermaid is in the grips of a massive turnaround effort, driven by hard-charging CEO Joseph Galli Jr., who has made it clear he intends to rejuvenate the company via new-product rollouts and aggressive marketing. This campaign is one of the first steps in repositioning the brand as not only functional, but driven with the same sense of design savvy that has marked most recent successful product introductions ranging from the iMac to the new Volkswagen Beetle.

Rubbermaid will spend between $12 million and $14 million on the effort until the end of the year, with the bulk going to network and cable TV.

John Constantine, VP-marketing and sales for the Rubbermaid home-products division, said the effort has three goals. The first is to reintroduce the brand to TV advertising, and the second is to focus on individual products. "We wanted use the products as heroes, and let them cast a halo back onto the brand," he said. The final goal was to make the stuff look cool. "We wanted to infuse it with a sense of newness," he said.

To do so, the agency brought in a Spanish director who goes by the single name of Jaume (pronounced "Jaw-ma"), who directs through a company called Partizan, New York. The spot was produced by McCann's Julie Andariese. The senior creative team was Art Director Chris Quillen and Copywriter George Dewey.

Contributing: Lisa Sanders

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