Ace Hardware to DIYers: Think Outside the Big Box

Headshot of Robert Klara

Just in case your weekend to-do list includes putting on a deck, adding a patio and building a playroom, the folks at Ace Hardware have a message for you: Get a life.

A campaign breaking this week from GSD&M Idea City, Austin, Texas, positions Ace as the place for quick home maintenance solutions, rather than the major, time-sucking ones which are better left to patrons of big box stores.

“This is part of our re-education of the consumer that we’re not a home improvement store,” said Ace vp, marketing John Surane. “Our core is about helpfulness and convenience.”

GSD&M has created an entire slate of marketing materials that range from a new Facebook page to TV and radio spots. All center around the theme that fixing up your house should be a quick and painless process and that Ace is the down-the-block hardware store for small jobs. Sample tweet: “If you crack open your window & see a hole or tear in the screen, we can help you fix it.”

The TV spots feature schlumpy-looking homeowners who each take a kind of oath (accompanied by a patriotic-sounding trumpet, natch) not to let their household projects get out of hand.

“This spring, I will not plan a yard project where I have to rent a bulldozer,” says one heavyset man. “I will not add an entire wing to my house,” pledges another middle-aged guy. Intones a third homeowner: “I will go to Ace and turn my to-do list into a to-done list.” At the end of the spots, the weekend warriors prepare to march off to more enjoyable pursuits. Golf, for example.

The light and slightly snarky message here, underscored by the tagline “Get in. Get help. Get on with your life,” is pretty obvious: If you don’t happen to be the second incarnation of Bob Vila, then Ace is your store.

While an overt mention of big box rivals like The Home Depot is missing, one of the actors does make a not-so-subtle reference to how long it can take to find a sales associate at aircraft-hangar-like stores: “I will not spend more time waiting to get help than it takes to paint a room,” cracks a woman wielding a paint roller.

Jabs aside, the spots seem clearly aimed at solidifying a positioning Ace once owned with its older tagline: “Ace is the place for the helpful hardware man.” Now, it seems, the gardening gloves have come off. “Ace is the helpful place, and we’re not trying to get away from that,” Surane added. “But the consumer has evolved, and we have to tell [him or her] why we’re different. We don’t renovate kitchens, but we can help you maintain your home.”

Like Home Depot and Lowe’s, Ace’s revenues declined last year, by 10.4 percent in what CEO Ray Griffith dubbed “a very challenging year” in a written statement. During that time, Home Depot’s revenues fell 7.2 percent and Lowe’s dipped 2.1 percent. Spending on the campaign was not disclosed. Ace spent $35 million on measured media in 2009, per the Nielsen Co.

Meanwhile, James Bell, senior partner for brand-strategy consultants Lippincott, said that given the hardware sector’s overall decline, Ace’s pitch makes sense.

“If we think of why the economy is where it is and my home isn’t worth what it was, why should I take on these massive home improvement projects?” he said. “[Ace’s message] jibes nicely with the times, suggesting a balanced approach to life where you value time over money since nobody has much money right now, anyway.”

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.