The Maytag Repairman - Should a long running, popular brand character be updated, revised or retired in response to changes in the positioning of the brand?

Situation: The lonely Maytag Repairman is a strong character with a well-defined conflict. He stood as the symbol of dependability for over 25 years, helping to identify Maytag as "the dependability people." If dependability had remained the most compelling reason to buy an appliance, he probably could have continued unchanged indefinitely. Unfortunately, the value of dependability in selling Maytag appliances was minimized by the generally good level of dependability delivered by all of the major brands. Recognizing this, Maytag and their agency, Leo Burnett, decided to reposition the brand as "innovative" rather than "dependable." They attempted to fit the Maytag Repairman into this strategy for approximately five years before they began to note symptoms of his decline.

Symptoms:

  • Creatives were uncertain how to move forward with the character.

  • The character was often used only as an iconic tag at the end of spots.

  • Research showed the character losing traction with the public.

Up until the 2000 elections, the Maytag Repairman had been regularly "borrowed" by political cartoonists during election years, when he would invariably be used to lampoon the more solid, boring candidates, or the lonely ones with the least votes. This "borrowing" of the character for use outside of appliance marketing underscored how widely recognized and well understood the Maytag Repairman had become. But he vanished from political cartoons during the 2000 elections, a fact that raised flags for John Thomas, Maytag's Brand Equity manager at that time.


Solution: Leo Burnett and Maytag approached character to examine the Maytag Repairman in the spring of 2000. Our primary task was to help them decide if the Maytag man could still play a vital role in the brand, and if so, how.

After an in depth review of the character and the brand, we began to focus on the unacknowledged conflict between dependability and innovation. Dependable technology is frequently the tried and true rather than the latest innovation, and frequently the most innovative new technologies are not completely dependable. Rather than deny this conflict, we recommended that Maytag embrace it. The old, sedate, dependable Maytag Repairman was a poor fit for selling innovation, but he (and his enormous equity) would provide excellent balance to another character focused on the pursuit of innovative, cutting edge appliance technologies. This led in turn to the invention of an "apprentice" character, a younger repairman with a chiseled jaw and a single-minded determination to pursue and understand appliance perfection by every means possible. Based on this work, the Burnett team produced several rounds of commercials in which the tug and pull between the old repairman and his apprentice embody the ongoing tension between dependability and innovation inherent in the brand.

This new dynamic provides both energy and authenticity for a campaign that has already resulted in double-digit growth for the Maytag brand and a return of the characters to the public conscious. As an example of this return, in 2002, Chevrolet asked permission to borrow the Maytag repairmen for a commercial to illustrate the conflict between the dependability of the Impala and its more exciting, cutting edge qualities.


See the original Maytag Repairman commercial

See the Jetclean commercial featuring the New Apprentice.

See the Neptune commercial featuring the New Apprentice.

See the Chevrolet commercial featuring both Maytag Repairmen.



Copyright 2002 Character, LLC.