Infuriated marketing chief heats up vacuum battle with $120M campaign

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Dave Baker is fuming. "The Dyson camp is masterful at spinning," said the VP-marketing at Hoover. So even though Hoover is being spun off from owner Whirlpool and has been knocked out of its long-held No. 1 position in the vacuum market by upstart Dyson, Mr. Baker said it plans to fight back-both in the courtroom and in the ongoing ad war of words with Dyson. It's a war in which Hoover hasn't shouted loudly, but Mr. Baker plans on changing that. In the works is a campaign from the brand's new creative agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, that will triple the brand's ad spending, Mr. Baker told Advertising Age reporter Mya Frazier, estimated at $40 million last year. "Then, depending on our new owner, we could spend even more."

Why are you so angry?

I have been at Hoover for 28 years, and that's why I get very emotional about these issues. I am mad because the truth is not known. I am mad because a competitor is misleading our consumer into believing that their product is better than our product at the most important attribute the consumer is looking for: carpet cleaning.

What is your point of view on the April 17 NAD decision?

The headline you ran, "Dyson Wins One Over Hoover in Vacuum Wars." ... It looks like Dyson kicked Hoover's ass, and that is absolutely not true. They made a statement in that article that, "It's a simple victory for technology and truth," and that's just bullshit, and it sounds like something Superman says.

Why has Hoover not spoken out about this sooner?

We've been so mad we didn't want to sound like sour grapes.

Where did Hoover win, in your opinion, within the NAD decision?

Consuming the majority of the complaint was the TV ads created by Element 79. Dyson took issue with every element and every word of that claim. But, and I'm reading straight from the decision, it reads: "Rather, NAD determined that the Hoover commercial gently mocks its competition but does not expressly or impliedly suggest that Dyson vacuum cleaners are ineffective."

Where did Dyson win, in your opinion?

Dyson challenged the plethora of claims and various elements of Hoover advertising and merchandising all the way into specific components of testing protocol, [and] Hoover prevailed in the vast majority of those challenges. They might have been a victor on a hangtag or that we have to use the word carpet, but that's fine, because we love the word carpet.

Why aren't you challenging Dyson again at NAD?

The review board will not hear claims when parties already have entered litigation. The court case started in 2005, and we are still just in the discovery and deposition stage-it may not go into trial until mid-2007. This battle will be waged for many months and perhaps years to come.

What do you do in the meantime to try and regain Hoover's No. 1 position?

Rather than waiting until the damages mount until the point of no return, we have to compete. We don't believe in the "no loss of suction" claims because they have nothing to do with cleaning carpet.

Was it a misstep with [Hoover's] Fusion then, as you did in recent advertising, to claim the no-loss-of-suction position, as opposed to arguing that suction has nothing to do with cleaning carpet?

We plan to add a caveat to our advertising and add the disclaimer that it is not correlated to in-home cleaning activity and that it does not have a relationship to carpet-cleaning ability. It will be all over the product graphics and the packaging. It's a way to hit Dyson where they claim their superiority.

Aren't you falling into those games yourself when you claim "no loss of suction" on your Fusion?

We will modify our claim accordingly that there's no correlation to in-home cleaning results. Instead, we are going to say that every Hoover upright out-cleans Dyson-even Hoover's lowest-priced upright with a full bag cleans carpet better than the highest-priced Dyson.

Amid the litigation, how do you still compete?

Compared to where we've been over the last few years, we are going to have a very consistent communication to consumers in all of our forms of advertising, from TV to print to the website to the shelf, that the Hoover products are the best products-by performance, by cleaning carpet, period.

How are you going to do this?

We will spend money making this message loud and clear. We backed off the last few years. Even though our message may have been good and compelling, we were unable to spend and procure our level of share of voice, and we were out-shouted in a major way.
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