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When Fred Astaire wrapped an arm around a Dirt Devil Broom Vac and jauntily twirled it 'round the room, it was a magic moment for appliances everywhere.

By the time the elegant 30-second Super Bowl spot aired, however, much of the groundwork leading to Dirt Devil's success had already been laid. And, admittedly, it was much more mundane.

Before the Broom Vac hit stores in March 1996, Jim Holcomb, VP-marketing and strategic planning at Royal Appliance Manufacturing Co., decided to sell the product through direct-response TV ads from BKV Advertising, Atlanta. Royal had used direct response in the past to ship product catalogs to consumers but had never used it to fulfill product orders.

The strategy built solid awareness and understanding of the product in the two months before it hit retail, says Mr. Holcomb, 46. The Broom Vac, a rechargable appliance that sweeps and vacuums, grew to more than 20% of the company's $286 million in sales last year.

"This was a new-to-the-world product, so we needed that two-minute direct-response ad to say this is how it works, this is what it does," Mr. Holcomb says. The company used pieces of the direct-response ads to create a subsequent network TV campaign.

The Fred Astaire spots, from Meldrum & Fewsmith, Cleveland, were the icing on the cake. In the three weeks the spot ran in January, Broom Vac sales volume tripled, Mr. Holcomb says. The special-effect ads took a full year to create and were used to tout Dirt Devil's Hand Vac and upright Ultra MVP, as well.

Mr. Astaire may resurface this fall to herald the retail launch of Royal's new Mop Vac. But before the product appears in stores, Royal will run a full five

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