Blast from past makes comeback for Sherwin-Williams - McKinney

Blast from past makes comeback for Sherwin-Williams

April 20, 2009

In a campaign now under way, Sherwin-Williams is restoring the phrase “Ask Sherwin-Williams” to a starring role in its advertising. The campaign, with a budget estimated at $40 million, presents the Sherwin-Williams stores as the best places puzzled people can go to find answers to all their questions about paint and painting.

The campaign is the first work from McKinney in Durham, N.C., since it was hired last fall to be the creative agency for the Sherwin-Williams Paint Stores Group division of the Sherwin-Willliams Company.

The campaign includes television commercials, print advertisements and ads online. There is also a presence on the Sherwin-Williams Web site.

The comeback for “Ask Sherwin-Williams” is indicative of the fascination marketers have long had with encouraging consumers to find out information through questions, which makes what they are told less likely to seem like a sales pitch. It echoes the admonition of teachers and parents, “If you don’t ask questions, how are you ever going to learn anything?”

For instance, Packard cars were advertised with the theme “Ask the man who owns one,” which was later paraphrased by American Suzuki as “Ask anyone who owns one.” Merrill Lynch used “Ask Merrill” as its slogan for several years, and Pennzoil was “the ‘ask-for’ motor oil.”

Many baby boomers are still able to sing this jingle: “Ask any mermaid you happen to see, what’s the best tuna? Chicken of the Sea.” Commercials using that jingle may have even appeared during episodes of the TV series “You Asked for It.”

Sweet Caporal cigarettes used the slogan “Ask Dad he knows”; a sign bearing those words appears in a scene set in Mr. Gower’s drug store in the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Computer users may want to look that up on

The return of “Ask Sherwin-Williams” also offers another example of a trend that has gain traction during the economic downturn: nostalgia. Marketers are rummaging through corporate vaults for vintage ad themes, and songs and characters, which can reassure consumers during uncertain times.

Among those playing “Remember when” with consumers are Bumble Bee tuna, Diet Coke, General Mills cereals, Nationwide insurance and PepsiCo soft drinks like Mountain Dew and Pepsi-Cola.

“Ask Sherwin-Williams” has been “a part of our campaign for 25-plus years,” says Karl Schmitt, vice president for marketing and merchandising at the Sherwin-Williams Paint Stores Group in Cleveland, which oversees 3,300 retail outlets in North America.

Most recently, it was “a tag line,” he adds, as campaigns sought to establish Sherwin-Williams as “a specialty store” for paint.

The decision to make the phrase “a much more prominent part of the campaign” represents more than auld lang syne, Mr. Schmitt says.

“We feel it speaks to our greatest benefit, our point of difference,” he adds, which is “the service we can provide” through the employees of the Sherwin-Williams stores.

“‘Ask Sherwin-Williams’ pays it off by saying, ‘If you really want to get the job done right and have the expertise to support you, the Sherwin-Williams store is where you go,’ ” Mr. Schmitt says.

“People might think of painting as grabbing a bucket and a brush, but maybe they’re not sure what primer is or they’re not sure how to do trim,” he adds. “If you’ve got questions, we’ve got the answers.”

The centerpiece of the reintroduction is a 60-second television commercial, with an upbeat, high-energy rock tune on the soundtrack, that is meant to be the anthem of the campaign. The song — “The Weakest Shade of Blue” by the Pernice Brothers — signals a shift in the demographic targeting for Sherwin-Williams, Mr. Schmitt says.

The brand is continuing to seek customers ages 25 to 54, he explains, but is “putting a greater concentration on the 25-to-35” age group, which may be more likely to buy paint at a big-box store like Home Depot or Lowe’s than at a Sherwin-Williams store.

“Ask us about small projects,” the commercial says, showing a chair on screen, or “really big ones,” showing the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Ask us about paint removal,” the spot says, showing paint-made footsteps tracked along a floor, “and patience,” showing two children making a mess of a room and themselves with paint.

“Ask us about the shaker,” the commercial offers, “but don’t ask us for a ride on it.”

“Ask how before becomes after and how we turn people into painters,” the spot concludes. “All you have to do is ask.”

That approach is reinforced with other, shorter commercials. In two spots, consumers inside Sherwin-Williams stores ask questions, one after the other, as if they were all part of one long, nonsensical sentence. “A better paint job is an answer away” is the promise.

In two other commercials, Sherwin-Williams employees answer questions, again one after the other in the fashion of a run-on sentence.

A sample follows: ‚ÄúOnly if it‚Äôs not too humid … You gotta let it dry first… Sure, if you‚Äôre a lefty … No, no, never do that … Ever… You can‚Äôt just glob it on thicker … Ooh … Ooh … Hmmm. That‚Äôs a new one.‚Äù Again, the promise is, ‚ÄúA better paint job is an answer away.‚Äù

A radio commercial takes a similar tack. “What is the best way to tape a wall,” a man’s voice asks, “and how do I diaper this baby?”

An announcer replies by answering both questions at once. “That’s easy,” he begins. “Start at the bottom, make sure the surface is clean and dry.” He concludes this way: “Or just stop into your neighborhood Sherwin-Williams paint store for the advice you need to do the job right. And mess-free.”

The print ads carry headlines that invoke famous questions or how-to advice. For instance, one suggests, “Ask Sherwin-Williams where babies come from.” Another carries the headline “Ask Sherwin-Williams how to win friends and influence people.”

A third print ad advises, “Ask Sherwin-Williams if your breath smells.” And a fourth says, “Ask Sherwin-Williams where you left your car keys.”

Banner ads on Web sites take advantage of the medium’s ability to show movement by presenting humorous “color wars.”

For example, in one banner ad, computer users first see a color for a “man cave.” Then they see a color for a “yoga studio.” The two colors clash a bit on the banner before a winner is declared: a color for “grandma’s room.”

“Ask Sherwin-Williams to help plan your spare room,” the banner ad concludes.

The goal is to present Sherwin-Williams as “accessible, youthful, energetic,” says Jonathan Cude, chief creative officer at McKinney, while at the same time underline the brand’s authenticity and “genuineness.”

“Sherwin-Williams is obviously a brand with a tremendous heritage and history,” Mr. Cude says, which was “not being leveraged enough.”

“We saw an opportunity to make ‘Ask Sherwin-Williams’ the idea of the brand,” he adds, by focusing on “something they’ve always had with ‘Ask Sherwin-Williams,’ that they’re painting experts.”

The campaign also seeks to “communicate that sense of accomplishment” that comes with completing a paint job, Mr. Cude says.

“You do get a bit of the aspirational or inspirational vibe off the anthem spot,” he adds, referring to the 60-second commercial. “People see it and it’s, ‘I want to go paint something.’ And it feels good to do it.”

The TV commercials are running on cable channels that include ABC Family, A&E, Discovery, Discovery Health, ESPN, Fine Living, Food Network, Style, Travel Channel and Weather Channel.

The print ads are appearing in titles that are “not just home-décor magazines,” Mr. Cude says, but also in publications “that leverage the idea of expertise by bringing in other experts” in areas like fashion, food, parenting and sports.

So while the media schedule includes the likes of Architectural Digest, Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful, Real Simple, Southern Living and This Old House, the ads are also running in magazines like Bon Appétit, Cookie, Food Network Magazine, Glamour, GQ, Health, Lucky, Money, O: The Oprah Magazine and Sports Illustrated.

There is a similar strategy for the online ads. Some are running where you might expect, like Web sites including,, and Others are appearing on Web sites like,,,,,, and

There is also what Mr. Cude calls “an integrated online hub” on three related informational Web sites:, and

“Those are painting triggers,” he says, referring to the activities to which those sites are devoted: getting married, settling into a home and having a baby.

Visitors to the three sites will be able to take part in a contest by submitting photographs of makeover projects that went horribly wrong. The winner will receive paint and paint supplies from Sherwin-Williams — along with some expert advice for the next project.

There will also be hubs on Apartment Therapy ( and iVillage ( where visitors can submit questions to be answered by expert editors and experts at Sherwin-Williams.