True Value fails to nail down benefits

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Advertiser: True Value
Agency: Leo Burnett USA, Chicago
Rating: 2 stars

At least Pat Summerall is gone.

So, in the category of "pitchman with high male-viewer recognition but absolutely no connection to hardware themes," the True Value image campaign from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, is already an improvement.

Moreover, it is handsome, well-crafted, inspirational and totally positive--much resembling the handsome, inspirational, totally positive introduction of Windows 95, and Burnett's handsome, inspirational, totally positive work for Reebok. Lots of faces, lots of hard-driving alternative rock, lots of onscreen type repeating the spoken copy.

And repeating. And repeating. And repeating.

"Don't worry," says one voice, followed by another saying, "You'll make it," and another saying, "You'll make it sparkle."

And so on: "Don't worry, you'll make it shine. You'll make it new again. Don't worry. You'll make it. You'll make it on time, under budget, in whatever color you please. Don't worry. You'll make it. You'll make it bloom. And if you need help, don't worry. Don't worry. Don't worry. Help is just around the corner."

Don't worry. Be happy. Pick up a scraper on sale, because the paint on the shutters is Norman Vincent Peale-ing. Just do it. Because you're handy enough, you're thmart enough and, doggone it, people like you.

Who wrote this stuff, Stuart Smalley? We need to be empowered to fix the garbage disposal? This sort of message may have some resonance, and relevance, selling athletic gear, or software .. . but a hardware store? Ah ha! A new concept:

Do-it-yourself actualization.

Next it'll be audio "processing" tapes of whale songs with subliminal messages embedded within: "You can correctly miter crown molding. You can install a ventilation turtle on your roof. You can roto-till the garden without roto-dislocating your shoulders."

Caveat emptor. Our neighbor Jacques saved about $400 by installing his vinyl flooring all by himself, but made such a sorry show of it he had to buy all new flooring and pay an installer after all. Net savings: minus $1,100, because Jacques didn't make it sparkle, didn't make it shine and he should have started worrying before he opened his razor knife.

But apart from the accuracy of the you-can-do-it message, there's the question of how it particularly serves True Value retailers in their uphill struggle against the large home-center chains. How do these ads channel the viewer's positive home-maintenance feelings away from the category busters and into the bustees?

Answer: They don't.

Except for the splendid "Help is just around the corner" tagline, nothing in these spots gets to the advantages of shopping the little True Value hardware store instead of, say, Home Depot.

The essence of the marketing problem, of course, is that there aren't a whole lot of advantages--not in price, not in selection, not even, often enough, in convenience. But you'd have expected some reference in the ads to the personal touch and ongoing relationship you can have with your local True Value proprietor. Or maybe something about the option to buy one hex nut from a bin for 2 cents, instead of a bubble-packed dozen hex nuts for $1.19. A true value, that is. In such ways advertising can neutralize a liability, or even turn it into an asset. This campaign just grabs a brush, taps its toes together three times and paints over it.

Copyright April 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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