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    Tom Dougherty CEO, Stealing Share

    Tom Dougherty is the President and CEO of Stealing Share, Inc., and has helped national and global brands such as Lexus, IKEA and Tide steal market share over his 25-year career.

    An often-quoted source on business and brands, he has been featured recently by the New York Times and CNN, discussing topics ranging from television to Apple to airlines.

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Ace Hardware. A case study in political correctness

Ace Hardware has become vanilla.

Ace HardwareLast week, I wrote a blog on how political correctness makes everything difficult. It spoke to how such meaningless sensibilities make most everything we do more difficult and vanilla. It also spoke to how difficult it makes commercials resonate because the price of clarity is the risk of offence. Ace Hardware could learn a few things from it.

Let’s see what we can learn from Ace Hardware. This old school hardware retailer was one of the first hardware store chains to franchise.

Ace hardwareFor most of us around my age, we remember the hardware stores in our towns as independent mom and pop (mostly pop) stores. With a distinct and pleasant smell, the old wood floors creaked and the tools and pipe fittings seemed to be stacked to the ceilings. Then along came Ace Hardware and many of the independents folded. Ace had the power of TV and advertising. As well as a large footprint.

When Home Depot and Lowes came around, the worm turned. Suddenly even the national chains like Ace Hardware were under pressure. Locations closed, revenues dropped and it became a difficult challenge to compete with the big box boys.

So Ace Hardware has been trying to redefine itself. It has tried to expand its traditionally male audience to include female shoppers. The stores have left some of the traditional hardware venues and look more and more like a small general store. The strategy has not worked as well as Ace Hardware might have hoped.

The old Ace Hardware ads

If you remember from a few years back, Ace Hardware had John Madden as its spokesman. The brand invested its jingle. “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man.”

Then a few years later, in trying to expand its base, it maintained the instrumental jingle but eliminated the lyrics. Using many images of females, Ace Hardware declared itself The Helpful Place.

The new politically correct Ace Hardware version.

The newest campaign is a bit jarring. This happens when brands turn their backs on equity markers that they have powerfully invested in over the years. We remember the old jingle and the new one seems somehow wrong. This is where Ace finds itself today.

The new commercials feature the familiar jingle but the lyrics end awkwardly with “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks.” The political correctness is enough to scare away new customers. After all, it feels forced, a little silly and very vanilla. Not exactly what you want your brand to be about when you seek to be an authentic hardware store. Authenticity is never an offshoot of political correctness.

5 thoughts on “Ace Hardware. A case study in political correctness

  1. Tom, I’m not an “ACE” shopper but it seems to me that they are simply trying to own the word, “helpful”. The first commercial IS helpful. The second shows people simply sitting or standing around, apparently after being helpful. And the most recent is a co-op-screaming price driven ad which ACE is less likely to win versus a Home Depot or Lowe’s. Assuming “helpful” is a true differentiator, and my father-in-law would say that Home Depot’s contractor staff is not overly helpful to him, then ACE should be single minded on that point. They should center their campaign on people not knowing where to start, and the ACE (or A team) answering the call. In store, they should ask customer feedback on who’s being helpful to reinforce that positive message while rewarding notable employees. Lots they could do.

    1. Rich, I don’t disagree with you completely, my issue is with the use of the jingle which loses all credibility with the PC change to folks. As far as a brand positioning, I would say thar helpfulness is a table stake and is something all retail claims. Talk to anyone and they tell you that customer service is what separates them from the competition. The REAL brand problem is that it is all about ACE and not about you and I. We have been preaching for years that a brand is an aspirational reflection of the customer. This is old school USP marketing and won’t build their business. I appreciate having a branding expert like you comment on my blog. Please feel free to disagree and to agree in the future.

  2. I found my way to your page since I’ve been totally frustrated with that Ace jingle for several months now. The way it’s sort of “muffled” at the end…I couldn’t tell WHAT they were saying…although I suspected it was “pros”. That made sense to me. I suppose “folks” does to, but they way they sing it, it sounds MORE like pros, and SHOULD be, because you can’t trail off the last word like they do, and require that it end is “ks” and be understandable. Pros (IMHO) make more sense and it still encompasses the all-desirable “correctness” that they’re after.

    I completely agree that the whole thing is ludicrous and should’ve remained “the helpful hardware man”. But oh no…these days you can’t exclude anyone or make any assumptions on the role models that the average household lives under.

    The world as such, has been officially “vanillaized”.

    Thanks for the “helpful” post!

  3. It’s time to fight back against the phony political correctness crap infesting our culture. I won’t do business with Ace Hardware! I’m fed up with these liberal fascists forcing their phony utopian bullcrap down our throats!

  4. This latest commercial has got to be one of the worst, and as another person mentioned, most annoying commercials/jingles I have ever heard!

    I honestly like ACE but please, please, get your money back from this Chicago based advertising company. This commercial is horrible! If I can get to my remote quickly enough, I turn the channel so I don’t have to listen to it. Don’t advertising agencies do some kind of panel testing with real people first? If they did you would get clear feedback that you can’t understand the second half of the jingle, and if a consumer hears the jingle more than once in a month, they will most certainly puke.

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