Why Ace Hardware is using PR activations to ‘be disruptive’ and get the attention of millennial DIY-ers

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Earlier this year, Ace Hardware added an influencer marketing strategy to its media mix as part of a larger strategic move into what the brand calls “PR activations” to appeal to do-it-yourselfers and first-time homebuyers, particularly millennials.

The 100-year-old hardware retailer, in partnership with agency OKRP, rolled out PR activations throughout the year. Those activations included creating a new holiday, “SomeDay,” to tackle home projects that people say they’ll get to some day; a promotion focused on grills tied to Thankgiving dubbed “Thanksgrilling;” and a holiday music video “Holi-DIY” celebrating DIY during the holidays. To get a sense of how the PR activations are helping Ace reach its target audience and boost brand affiliation with younger audiences, Digiday caught up with Jeff Gooding, vp of marketing at Ace Hardware.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Is Ace trying to appeal to a younger consumer base now? 

Short answer, yes. We’re trying to appeal to all DIY-ers and homeowners. Our value proposition is that we’re about being the helpful place, being the most helpful hardware store on the planet. That’s helpful for all audiences. However, the millennial audience, the growth audience as we call them, are obviously aging into being first-time home buyers and certainly we want to appeal to that new audience for us. We want them to have brand affinity for Ace.

How are you doing that?

Our full marketing mix is [targeting] DIY-ers. From TV to digital to search to social, everything that we’re doing is to reach those audiences. What’s new this year are the PR activations [like the SomeDay program]. It’s not specifically to reach those audiences but it’s a fringe benefit. Working in partnership with OKRP, we are working to create disruptive PR activations [that get the attention of homeowners and newer homeowners].

You’ve had a few of these PR activations already this year. Are those activations drawing millennials and first-time homebuyers to Ace stores? 

PR is just one cog in the machine to reach all DIY-ers, all homeowners and particularly that younger audience. We want to get them in the fold and have brand affinity. Are we seeing them in our stores? Yes. That’s as a result of everything we’re doing. These PR activations are new for us and we’ve seen good results so we’re going to keep going. We’re already working on what 2022 looks like.

As part of this effort you leaned into TikTok earlier this year. Do you think you’ll continue to increase your investment there? 

It’s brand new for us so jury is still out for us as a brand. We [don’t know] the percentage of homebuyers in that space. We’re wide open to it. We’re always open to finding the best way to reach and engage the target audience we’re trying to reach.

The whole charge with OKRP is to be disruptive. Let’s use PR, use these activations to be disruptive, punch above our weight and get noticed by DIY-ers in general and, in particular, millennials who are that growth audience for us.

Do you plan to continue leaning into influencers? 

Influencers [in our marketing mix] are relatively new for us as a brand. We are testing and learning as we go. As we get into 2022, we’ll continue to look at that. It’s dependent on the ideas that we end up executing —some ideas have influencers as an integral part and others don’t.

Your latest PR activation is a music video with some influencers. Are you putting paid media dollars behind that?

We did put a significant amount of money for us behind the holiday video on digital. We didn’t plan for anything to be put behind it. It was supposed to be just a holiday activation with the influencers creating their own and drafting off the idea. But it’s so good that we put a significant amount [of media dollars] behind it so we could get more folks to see it. [Editor’s note: He declined to share how much.] This effort and the PR activations are additive. We’re not killing anything else to be able to do this.

Anything else we should know?

Not only are we marketing to consumers but we also have 5,000 store owners. When you own an Ace store, it’s not a franchise organization. It’s a co-op. So when you own an Ace store you own part of the company. The marketing team has 5,000 bosses, the merchandising team has 5,000 bosses. Marketing and awareness with our retailers is almost as important as marketing to consumers. 


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