In his middle age, the Maytag Repairman has been swapped out for a newer model.
After 46 years, the brand is giving its familiar mascot a makeover for the first time. In a multimillion-dollar campaign that begins this week, the character will be dressed snappier; played by a more attractive, dimple-chinned, slimmer actor; and will no longer be portrayed as a repairman with nothing to do.
Instead, the rugged new Maytag Man will show up in commercials as a symbol of the machines themselves: sitting under the counter next to the sink as a woman hands him her dirtiest dishes, for example, or magically tumbling a load of laundry in midair.
"He's not the goofy, lovable, woe-is-me repairman," said Louie Calvano, creative director at Maytag's ad agency, Team 180, in Chicago. "He actually is the Maytag appliance. We needed someone who physically and personality-wise better represented the machine … a manly, masculine man, who looks like he has strength and experience to him."
While the face of the repairman has changed – he has been played by four different actors since his introduction in 1967 – his recognizable identity has not. He has always been slightly frumpy, and characterized by his boredom working for a brand so dependable there is nothing to repair. Until now.
"It is an evolution for the brand," said James Oh, vice-president of marketing at Whirlpool Canada. "It is never an easy decision to change an iconic mascot like the Maytag Man. … We wanted a fresh new face."
About five years ago, the company changed its slogan from "Built strong to last long," to "What's inside matters." This is another step in that brand shift: while the marketing team still wants to emphasize dependability, Mr. Oh said, it also wants to take a more active tone in talking about how its machines perform.
The shift in strategy comes as the Whirlpool Corp.-owned brand seeks to market itself more actively to a new generation of consumers. (Whirlpool completed its acquisition of Maytag in March, 2006.)
While the company's target audience for its appliance advertising spans a wide age range, at the moment it is particularly seeking out people in their late 20s or early 30s who may be making an appliance purchase for the first time.
To better appeal to them, the marketing team felt that a more active character would resonate more than a repairman.
In a notable shift for a multimillion-dollar, North America-wide marketing effort, the campaign is not launching on television. TV ads featuring the new man will not hit Canadian airwaves until mid-April. Instead, the character will be introduced in a series of videos online (they will be posted on YouTube and the Maytag website starting on Jan. 23) and on social media sites where younger consumers spend so much of their time, via their computers and mobile devices.
"Because this is such a fresh and new approach, we needed to engage consumers a bit more in-depth than what a national TV spot would allow," Mr. Oh said. "To help consumers understand his new role … our research clearly showed that this was the right first step. Then, we will go mass [media] … and reinforce that message."
The brand will be active on Facebook, for example, and the Maytag Man character will soon have his own account on Twitter. There, his new personality – confident, outgoing, declarative in a superhero baritone – will have room to be further developed. Digital advertising also allows the brand greater reach to audiences at a lower cost, Mr. Calvano said.
Maytag is planning a number of new product launches in its laundry and kitchen lines in 2014, which the new mascot will promote in a variety of media.
Most of the advertising in the appliances category tends to focus on device features, as well as images of busy families and sparkling-clean, modern kitchens. Maytag is hoping to do something different to get noticed.
"We could talk about the commercial-grade gaskets, and parts, and so forth, but we didn't think people would connect with that," Mr. Calvano said. "By not showing the appliances until the end of the videos, and trying to establish an emotional connection as opposed to a mechanical connection to them … by showing a human as the appliance, we think people will make that connection."