Marketing 50

Roomba FloorVac

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PIONEERING A NEW PRODUCT segment isn't easy-something Gregory White, exec VP-general manager at iRobot Corp., discovered when he took on the marketing of the company's Roomba FloorVac, said to be the first automatic vacuum in the U.S.

"It's such a new concept for people, it takes some real convincing," says Mr. White, 39, who joined the company early this year after a decade with the Holmes Group, a consumer portable electric-appliance company.

For instance, the 12-inch round model, named for the playful nature of its circular motion, still gets catcalls from critics for bumping into furniture, a characteristic that Mr. White explains is intentional. He says Roomba, which retails for $199.95, is designed to gently bump into objects and then clean around them. The technology to avoid objects, marketed on models in Europe, is 10 times more expensive, he says, but he also argues that it leaves dirty areas around furniture. "That's a perfect example of marketing something that's so wildly pioneering," says Mr. White. "You have to make everything obvious. There's no conventional wisdom in this category."

Initial marketing efforts included product distribution in high-end retail outlets such as Hammaker Schlemmer, Brookstone and Sharper Image, followed up by a 28-minute infomercial. This fall, iRobot launched a $7.5 million campaign via Brand Concept, Boston. Between now and the end of the year, TV ads will run on network and cable in 15 to 20 key markets. The tagline, "If it's down there, we'll get it," connotes the Roomba's ability to vacuum under beds, tables and other hard-to-reach places. The campaign also will include some direct marketing and newspaper ads.

While iRobot released two advanced models this fall, it's also expanding into more mass retail outlets. "Our most important goal is to open people's eyes to the promise of robotic solutions in their home," says Mr. White, who promises additional zippy products from iRobot in the near future.

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