Ace Hardware. A case study in political correctness.

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

2 July 2015

Ace Hardware has become vanilla.

Last 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 Hardware

Hardware stores were once a major part of the community.

I don’t even know where a nearby hardware store is. Nor do I care.

For 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.

“This happens when brands turn their backs on equity markers that they have powerfully invested in over the years.”

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.


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