It’s sleek, powerful, fast, German-engineered yet all-American, and it represents the latest state-of-the-art technology. It’s not a new car; it’s the Duet washer from Whirlpool. In 2001, the company conducted its first United States launch of a high-end, front-loading washer and dryer pair.
This new pair represents a distinct departure from the traditional top-loading ‘white box’ that dominates the appliance market in the US. It also presented a communications challenge for a company trying to step outside of that white box. While the Duet, which can retail for up to $2000 per pair, represents one of the highest-priced laundry appliances on the market, it has several advantages over the competition.
The Duet is extremely gentle and provides superior fabric care, allowing consumers to wash items that previously had to be dry-cleaned; uses 28 percent less water and 27 percent less electricity than standard washers; is ergonomically designed for ease of loading and unloading; and features a high-temperature sanitizing cycle that kills 99.999 percent of bacteria on clothing without the use of chemicals.
 PR21 and Whirlpool conducted a full-scale media relations campaign to generate awareness and consumer interest in this new product, with no support from advertising. PR21 carefully timed its outreach to create a sustainable buzz around the product that would begin concurrent with the products’ arrival in stores and would continue throughout the year.
 Consumers needed to be educated about the category of front-loading washer and dryers and persuaded of the advantages of a high-priced appliance. And the Duet faced tough consumer-recognition competition from the Maytag Neptune, a front-loading machine that beat the pair to market. Moreover, due to budget cuts, the Duet had little to no advertising support for the first year of its launch, so Whirlpool relied on the power of PR to spark consumer interest.
Whirlpool’s target consumer audience has been nicknamed “The Active Balancer,” and is described as:
· Energetically involved in life’s activities
· Time constrained, reliant on home appliances and services
· Holding high performance expectation of appliances
· Values progress towards achieving home life goals and life balance
In addition, Whirlpool needed to communicate the benefits of this washer and dryer to remodelers and home builders, many of whom play a major role in making decisions about the appliances placed in new and remodeled homes.
In order to decide which feature of the Duet would make the most appealing, sustainable news hook, PR21 surveyed and analyzed Whirlpool and its competitors’ media content. PR21 discovered that the “hot topic” of the day was energy and water efficiency, which gave Duet a distinct advantage. PR21 crafted materials and pitches, as well as the targeted daily media lists, around this angle.
However, for long-lead, glossy coverage, the design angle was conveyed, which PR21 did through slick product photography and by emphasizing the products roots in European design.
The strategy was to create an aggressive media relations campaign targeting media outlets read by active balancers, remodelers, and home builders.
PR21 and Whirlpool created a multi-tiered media outreach, beginning approximately six months prior to the retail launch of the product. The Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, with its high press attendance, was the perfect chance to show off the new appliance. However, the company was not ready to tip its hand to competitors by placing the Duet on the show floor in April of 2001.
Instead, PR21 and Whirlpool created a “press oasis” in a hotel suite located across the street from the convention center. The oasis was designed to create an experience that communicated not only the empowering spirit of the Whirlpool brand, but the innovation and vision behind the company’s newest product offering. In order to encourage editors, weary from long days spent walking the trade show floor, to take some time out to view the Duet, PR21 had to take a unique approach.
Editors were invited to preview an unnamed product during one-on-one interviews in a private suite. The event was masked in secrecy; they were told, to protect the company from the threat of industrial espionage. Editors were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement and to hold the story to a strict embargo. This enticing pitch helped to snag interviews with over 20 publications in just two days. PR21 followed up with media materials and phone calls. A New York media tour in July of 2001 completed the outreach to the long lead media. This approach was overwhelmingly successful – 21 out of the 25 editors present wrote about the Duet.
Because the retail launch of the Duet was delayed, the short-lead outreach and VNR release took place in January of 2002. At that time, PR21 secured an advance with Reuters. The video news release was picked up by CNN and on stations across the country.
But the launch did not end there. PR21 has conducted outreach over the last year to keep the drumbeat of publicity sounding, including an aggressive gift guide outreach resulted in newspaper articles suggesting a $2000 washer/dryer pair as an ideal gift for the Holiday season; in June of 2002, a mat release about water efficiency hit newspapers during the height of the drought season; an awards outreach campaign which resulted in a 2002 Popular Mechanics award, a Smithsonian design award, a manufacturing award from Appliance Manufacturer and an award from International Design magazine; and a product placement campaign, including the Las Vegas Real World and the set of the Sopranos
The Duet has been featured in 61 magazines, 308 newspapers stories, and 193 television stations, garnering over 216,800,000 impressions, and still counting. Advertising for the Duet machines began in September of 2002, a full year and a half after machines hit the stores. However, sales figures have far exceeded expectations, and many stores have waiting lists for the pair.