Haier America Aims to Mirror Success of Samsung, LG

Five Questions for VP-Marketing Richard Block

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Home is where Haier America's heart -- or at least its marketing spending -- is this summer.

Richard Block
Richard Block
The brand once synonymous with dorm refrigerators and room air conditioners has amassed a full portfolio of appliances and electronics in its 10 years in the United States. And it wants to command attention for that suite of products. So the China-based company has created a movable home filled with Haier appliances that will travel to fairs and events that draw more than 1 million people, such as the Ohio State Fair and the California State Fair. It kicked off this past weekend at food festival Taste of Chicago, managed by Haier agency Escalate, New York.

Until now, Haier America's marketing has centered on a four-year sponsorship deal with the NBA that's coming to an end. But it's clearly diversifying its efforts.

At the helm is Richard Block, a former Westwood One executive and Nobody Beats the Wiz VP-advertising, who joined Haier as VP-marketing three years ago. His goal, he said, is to guide Haier down the path of other foreign electronics brands such as Samsung and LG, which entered the U.S. market with little recognition and few products but have grown into household names.

He talked with Ad Age about the goals of the home tour, gaining brand recognition in the U.S. and diversifying Haier's marketing strategy.

Ad Age: Where did the idea for the home tour come from?

Mr. Block: Our two biggest customers are Walmart and Target. If you open up a Target circular on any given Sunday, you'll find a Haier product, but there are very few places you'll see them all. We go to three or four trade shows a year, but there's not even one place where we show all our wares at once. So this is really a great opportunity to do that.

Because we don't have the kind of marketing budget some of our competitors do, we really wanted to do a good job with PR. We did a smaller tour last year, but it was more one-dimensional -- just eight or nine cities -- but it was so successful that we decided to roll it out to a dozen cities this year. Last year, it was for also just for one product: our new convertible refrigerator. But this year it's a whole house. And it's showing 15 or 20 different products.

Ad Age: What is the strategy and thinking behind the tour?

Mr. Block: I say this sort of tongue-in-cheek, that I'm just an advertising guy. To me there really shouldn't be just one strategy. If it's brand awareness, great. If it's educational to get people to be aware of our product, that's fine. If it's selling with our local retail partner -- because we have a retail tent outside where they'll be couponing and bouncing back to the store in the city we're in, so if we do sales, that's great too. There's a wide range of different things that we're trying to accomplish during the tour.

Ad Age: Haier has mainly focused marketing on an extensive partnership with the NBA. How has that relationship been and is this your first departure from it?

Mr. Block: We are just winding down our initial foray with the NBA. We've had a four-year relationship with them, and we are involved in an ongoing conversation to determine if we're going to continue with that. Those conversations are positive and ongoing.

When I got here, one of the first things that we needed to do was get the NBA relationship off on the right foot. I also felt there were other things that needed to be done. The first thing was to relaunch the website. We completely changed our trade-show program. It had been a little bit smaller; I made the footprint at the shows bigger and much more comprehensive. We got the NBA involved with some player appearances and other things that made sense depending on the show.

So the NBA relationship, the trade-show program, relaunching the website -- those are some of the first things that we did [that were a departure]. We produced some TV commercials as well, which was really our first foray into TV. And then two years ago we went into magazines, and then this past year we took a very strong position with Meredith, and people have taken some notice.

Ad Age: The Haier brand is huge in China and other parts of the world, but in the U.S. it's almost like building a brand from the ground up, right?

Mr. Block: There's no question that Haier is 26 or 27 years old in China, and we're just going into our 10th year here. For the longest time we were known as room air conditioners and dorm/office refrigerators. Over the past five years, we've really gone into full-size refrigerators, washers, dryers, dishwashers, major appliances, and in the last several years we've gone into LCD TVs in a pretty significant way.

A lot of people have Haier products; they don't necessarily know it or are aware of it, but I think we're beginning to have some aha moments, like, "Oh, I didn't realize that's who it was -- I have a Haier air conditioner. Wow, you're the guys who make the LCD TVs."

Ad Age: Where do think the Haier brand is in the American mind-set right now and where would you like it to be in a few years?

Mr. Block: We've done a hell of a job in a couple of years getting the Haier brand out. We have a long way to go, but being the official HDTV of the NBA and being an official marketing partner of the league has really helped put us on the map. We're still pushing the rock up the hill, but we've made tremendous inroads. Our retail partners are very comfortable with us. Now it's a question of helping people get to know us even better. Some of our competitors, a Samsung or an LG, did terrific work in the last 10 or 20 years. We're certainly trying to go down a similar path, and I hope to be as successful as they are. That's the goal, that's the plan and that's the aspiration.

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