The manufactured housing industry has made great strides in terms of product improvements, increased selection and sales of upscale products, yet the perception remains that it is a low-end housing alternative associated with mobile homes, trailer parks and community eyesores.  Still, manufactured housing is one potential answer to America’s housing crisis and a viable option being used by more affluent home buyers.    

With this in mind, Champion Enterprises, Inc. —  the world’s largest homebuilder and maker of manufactured homes —  retained Burson-Marsteller to develop a positioning campaign for the company, to establish Champion as a residential solutions company for under-served and (surprisingly) affluent markets — and, thus, to raise awareness, change past perceptions and differentiate the firm from low-end competitors.   

In the summer of 2000, Burson-Marsteller capitalized on a unique opportunity.  Mike Huckabee, the Governor of Arkansas, and his wife, Janet, decided to use manufactured housing as a temporary housing solution during renovations to the state’s gubernatorial mansion. Their preference for a Champion home provided the spark Burson-Marsteller needed to turn a mundane news item into a brand marketing and positioning success story for an industry challenged by decades of negative perceptions. 


To make the Champion Governor’s mansion a reality and a branding success, the agency ran into two principle challenges:

  • Current zoning ordinances in Little Rock’s most historic district would not allow a manufactured home to be sited on mansion grounds.  Project partner, the Arkansas Manufactured Housing Association,  lobbied to get the ordinances changed.
  • A political controversy regarding the Arkansas Governor and first lady’s use of gifts and another regarding their plans for home renovations had to be sidelined every step of the way.


Burson-Marsteller conducted a telephone survey three months prior to the campaign, which helped identify key issues and themes for the client pitch, as well as key target audiences. Survey subjects, including financial analysts and select journalists, strongly felt that the industry’s negative image and zoning issues would threaten the industry’s/Champion’s ability to reach full market potential.  Additional research, examining the reasons behind the industry’s poor image and exploring potential issues surrounding Champion’s donation of a temporary home to the Arkansas Governor, helped identify challenges and served to tailor the program.   

The team: 1) used their research to identify ‘drivers’ of negative perceptions of the industry and 2) incorporated those drivers into Burson-Marsteller’s proprietary perception management methodology to create new desired mindsets and results.  Strategic planning/creative sessions were used to develop key themes, such as the “upwardly mobile home,” program tactics, timetable, staff and budgets.  


The program’s objectives were linked to two of Champion’s key business goals — expanding market share and entering new, high-potential markets.  Communications objectives in support of these goals included:  1) maximizing local and national media exposure for Champion Enterprises and 2) raising awareness about the desirability of today’s manufactured housing in general, and of Champion’s quality and design leadership, specifically.


Primary Audience: Potential new homebuyers, builders and developers. Secondary Audiences: State and local government agencies (especially zoning officials in expanding markets and more affluent communities), industry organizations, interest groups and the general public.


Mystery and humor were used to increase national interest. The team generated interest in the transport of the home and maintained mystery through installation by leaving the home under “wraps” (brand-identified and humorously labeled) and constantly poking fun at current perceptions.  Surprising the audience with a “first family” in a manufactured home and setting the audience up for a joke was key to maintaining interest.

Print and broadcast media (covering the building trade, consumer shelter/consumer interest news, general interest, entertainment features and business) were ultimately used to carry the story and key messages to target audiences.  Highlights include: Engaging people’s interest in the project by creating a “buzz” around the transport of the home to Little Rock; bringing Champion to the forefront of the story along with the Governor and first lady; getting the media (and their audiences) inside the home with a “move-in” day event/tour to show the product and its high quality; and, maximizing coverage by pitching to national media on multiple levels. 


The team set up the project’s “buzz” visually. Three 68-foot red banners proclaiming  “Destination: Little Rock: MY OTHER HOME’S THE GOVERNOR’S MANSION” were created for the three-parts of the dismantled home.  As the trailers left Champion’s Ridegeville, IN plant, Burson-Marsteller filmed the send-off  for media distribution of B-roll. As the home made its way from Indiana to Arkansas, Burson-Marsteller created excitement by pitching both the program’s expected punch-lines and Champion’s business goals. Three weeks later, the team executed a second media event in Little Rock.  On move-in day, Burson-Marsteller brought the media into the new “manufactured Governor’s mansion” for tours, maximizing the program’s image-changing possibilities by showing people a fabulous “spokesmodel” for the industry.

Burson-Marsteller pitched the media on multiple levels, targeting four networks through their corporate news departments, bureau staff, show producers and affiliate contacts, as well as print news and feature editors. Burson-Marsteller supplied talking points that were consistent with Champion brand positioning to all potential speakers on the project, and worked closely with partners in Little Rock including the Governor’s office, Governor’s Mansion Fund, Arkansas Manufactured Housing Association and their local PR firm.  A key tactic was personalized service to the media audience, good project coordination and visuals: photo releases, B-roll satellite feed and short video/narrative segments under 15 seconds.


Increased leads and Champion home sales proved the program’s success. As a direct result of the program, 

Calls to Champion home centers, plants and headquarters increased so dramatically, that the company was forced to arrange for additional plants to build the model currently housing the Governor and first lady of Arkansas.

Publicity raised awareness of the quality of today’s manufactured housing, showing millions the design excellence of Champion’s brand of manufactured housing and opening the door to new perceptions of an industry whose image is sorely out-dated.  Builders, affluent customers and local governments are now more willing to consider, purchase and allow Champion homes to be built in their communities.

National print and broadcast coverage of Champion’s “upwardly mobile home”/”manufactured governor’s mansion” has reached a total audience of more than 126 million to date and trade and consumer magazine coverage is still uncalculated.  A total of 156 newspaper, magazine and wire stories have covered the project, reaching an initial audience of more than 27 million readers; 343 television and radio broadcasts multiplied the message to another 100 million plus.  Audiences in at least 41 of the 50 top media markets heard or saw that Champion, unlike its competitors, builds “governor’s mansions” that are at home in any neighborhood.

Coverage of the story ranged from entertainment  (The Tonight Show with Jay Leno) to general interest (The Today Show) to business (The Detroit Free Press and The Financial Times). Sixty-two percent of the print coverage mentioned the name of the client specifically and more than 50 percent of those ran photographs of the home or company logo.  Forty percent of the print stories mentioned at least one of Champion’s key messages.
It’s also a good story of cost-effectiveness with Champion spending only a fraction of a penny for every 1,000 audience members reached — a little more than 5800 people were reached with every single penny spent.