Whirlpool: The Greatest Story Never Told

January 19, 2006

  • The MDA category (major domestic appliance) in the US is an approximately $20 billion category
  • The field is also becoming increasing crowded with foreign competitors such as LG, Samsung and Haier
  • While style and aesthetics have increased in importance in recent years, the category is still predominantly a "sea of white boxes."
  • In most consumers' eyes, MDA's basically do the same thing no matter what badge is on the door
  • Compounding this fact is that for decades, the industry has been communicating essentially the same things over and over....functionality, reliability and price
  • So, unless your washing machine has broken, you have bought/built a new home or are remodeling, the category also has very low interest and involvement
  • Whirlpool conducted an in-depth customer loyalty study that revealed a combination of rational and emotional elements
  • To everyone's surprise, the emotional piece was more than twice as important as the rational
  • Emotional components that indicate loyalty are: Recommend Whirlpool, Repurchase Whirlpool, Cross-purchase, Buy only Whirlpool, Ask for Whirlpool, Over rule a Salesperson, Switch Stores

This case study explores how Whirlpool created an emotional connection to differentiate its brand.


Create an emotional bond with consumers in a category historically driven by purely rational, functional benefits and messaging. Whirlpool was looking for a big idea to differentiate itself, and establish itself as the big brand it is.


In taking stock of the Whirlpool portfolio, the agency immediately identified a buried jewel. Since 1999, Whirlpool has been the single largest corporate sponsor of Habitat for Humanity, where every Habitat Home in the US receives a Whirlpool refrigerator and a range. Aside from Whirlpool and Habitat, however, only a handful of people were aware of this relationship
This was a very tricky and potentially risky proposition. Cause marketing has a high risk associated with it. It was imperative that Whirlpool didn't appear to be capitalizing on its good citizenship.

Putting the Idea into Action

The Whirlpool Brand is a brand that "Gives You the Power to Get More Done;" to accomplish more. As a brand and an entity, Habitat celebrates the power of human accomplishment, human action and human spirit.

With the concept of media neutrality in mind, an exhaustive vetting process took place with multiple agencies.

The Concept

The cross-functional team landed on a benefit concert tour. A benefit concert tour was a perfect way to give Whirlpool a huge stage to educate people about its special relationship with Habitat, as well as entertain.

A short list of celebrities were identified and one immediately rose to the top: Reba McEntire. Why?

  • Reba is a caring, compassionate person who has devoted her time to help others...including sponsoring a Habitat build on her own
  • Reba is also a brand, a musical icon who embodies achievement, talent and charisma wrapped in genuiness sincerity and approachability
  • And everything Reba has set out to do, she has accomplished

Reba immediately accepted the proposal and became an ambassador for the brand: The Reba McEntire Habitat for Humanity Tour Presented by Whirlpool

The Tactics:
  • 30+ City Tour, entitled and promoted as the Reba McEntire HFH Tour presented by Whirlpool. With % of ticket sales going to HFH
  • PR events were organized in each tour stop, with Reba talking up the relationship
  • Kiosks at each venue solicit donations, sign up volunteers and distribute literature
  • :60 and :30 television commercials feature Reba educating consumers about HFH/Whirlpool relationship and utilizes her music in the ad ("I'm a Survivor")
  • Print spread educates consumers about Whirlpool/Habitat Relationship
  • Reba was featured in programs with Parents, LHJ, O Magazine that include advertorials encouraging readers to donate to Habitat as well as contests to promote involvement
  • Concert Tickets for Habitat families in each market
  • The Whirlpool website had a section talking about the program, had a link to generate donations
  • Reba's website also included the HFH/Whirlpool story and solicited donations of time and money
The Results
  • Whirlpool's overall Customer Loyalty Index leaped from a 15 to 29 among those aware of the program
  • 2004 sales were up + 10%, a record year for the Brand
  • Over $500M raised for Habitat
  • Whirlpool saw significant increases in hits on Whirlpool.com peaking in June corresponding with the concert kick-off
  • Whirlpool has been bombarded with consumer e-mails appreciative of Whirlpools efforts and often demonstrating new found loyalty to the brand
  • The concept has since been expanded in 2005/6
    • More cities with larger venues
    • Custom HFH 18 wheeler made stops at all venues
    • Custom one-half hour television Scripps produced on HFH and Whirlpool's involvement
    • Continuation of added value print
  • Continuation of success, as well, with 2005 sales +14% for another record year
Final thoughts
  • Social Responsibility Marketing falls squarely in the high risk/high reward category
  • Collaboration is key
  • The idea should lead the way, not the execution
  • The idea must be consistent with the values of the company
  • It is important to dig deeper, and seek out the emotional end benefit

"Whirlpool Case Study: The Greatest Story Never Told." Gill Duff, President & CEO, Publicis New York; Jon Renner, Senior Vice President, Group Account Director, Publicis New York. ANA Senior Marketers Think Tank Committee Meeting, 01/19/06.