ACE Hardware

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

29 November 2016

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.

See more posts in the following related categories: ACE Hardware Home Depot Lowes Political correctness Politically correct Retail Retailing


  1. Richard Look

    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.

    • Tom Dougherty

      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. Ben

    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. sterve

    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. Josh

    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.

  5. Pam

    I disagree… I just heard the new jingle, and I applaud ACE Hardware. I’m sure they have many women associates who felt the old jingle left them out. I’m sure you can’t imagine what that’s like – I’m guessing you’re a white male – and obviously don’t think it’s a big deal. As a former engineer, and current high school physics teacher, I know how these subtle cues provide evidence to young women that they don’t belong in some professions.

    • Man

      listen Pam, Sorry to hear you’ve had issues….I’m sure the women employees (oh, can I say women?) never gave it a friken thought till people of your mentally , who have plenty of time on their hands, had to rag about it. You are obviously against males (no sublime there). you’re obviously anti male and intolerant of any thing “man”. Please seek help. You brag yourself to be educated, a physics teacher(those poor kids, thats why we home school…)(am I suppose to be impress and need to agree with you because of your boasting)? Talk about subliminal messages. Being technically advanced does not mean intelligent. That explains why a vast majority, if not all, anti-man groups are high educated. You don’t get a silver tongue conducting yourself honorable manner. Your movement will be your own demise, so it is written so it shall be. NO ONE SEES THEY GOT A SMALLER PIECE OF CAKE, TILL “SOMEONE”, points the difference out. in your comment you are the “someone”.
      After all, if they were hired at a hardware store, “They are accepted”. isn’t it you who are telling the women they don’t belong there?

      • Andy

        you need help

        • Eddie

          No, liberals need help.

  6. Man

    Well, “FOLKS” As many of your kind,,, just call yourselves “chicken little” or am I insulting poultry? (normal)People never gave a second thought to “man”, but you in your sick and twisted minds had to rag about it because your lost in your own person and force others to conform to your sick way of thinking. There is help for your, you only need to accept it. Being accurate is just a cop out, or am I insulting the police? So I just don’t go there anymore, thinking, I’ll just hurt someones feelings? I mean if I breath in your store, I’m using oxygen one of you could have used. where does it end???? “YOU people who push politically correctness are a scourge of your own doing, YOU create the injustice, YOU create the segregation and conflict. politicly correct??? just snuff yourselves out. Then no gets insulted, there is no confrontation, life goes on pleasantly, In your twisted way, you will be your own demise. Does twisting a normal decent jingle make you feel good, where you abused as a child, or recently? Go to church. You can always come back. You preach intolerance and hate. Church teach humbleness and forgiveness. Or this this what you hate from the get go. Go take up needle point or something, keep yourselves busy, do something to benefit society,,,,keeps “YOU” away from NORMAL “folks” like us. As to Ace Hardware,, you say it is more accurate (translated- means you chickened out) When it would be extremely more accurate to stop carrying merchandise that is not “hardware”, because,, will some other freaks feelings who adamantly says it’s not hardware, be hurt.. need we go on this pointless aberration.

  7. Eddie

    Ace got puss-a-fied. I’m embarrassed for them.


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