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TV advertising for hot tub dealers can look similar. It's the spokesman standing in a showroom with a cheesy smile. It's the assortment of photos with splashy bursts: "Just $5,999!" "Financing available!" "On sale now!"
Marq Schramm, marketing manager at Spa Inspectors in Houston, Texas, sees a problem with that approach.
"That doesn't really stick in your head," he says. "We wanted to do something that was story based and just made hot tubs look fun."
Schramm took matters into his own hands by creating a series of short videos, each telling a different, yet funny story of the hot tub life. There's the story of the wife on her birthday, fuming at the sight of a new car in the driveway because she "can't sip champagne and soak in an SUV." Or there's the hot tub delivery guys who, while stopped at an intersection, encounter a cute girl in the car next to them. (She only has eyes for the hot tub on the truck, of course.)
So far, all three videos have at least 19,000 views, while the top-performing video (more on that one below) clocks in at nearly 80,000 views.
Here, Schramm explains how these viral videos were made and how they helped promote his company's new retail division, I Heart Hot Tubs.
Schramm joined Spa Inspectors four years ago; the company has been owned and operated by his father, Doug Dinkins, for 30 years. While initially a service-focused operation (as the name suggests), Spa Inspectors ventured into the retail market about three years ago with a selection of Dimension One and Caldera Spas.
"When we started doing that [retail], I realized the name Spa Inspectors didn't really lend itself well to hot tub sales," Schramm says. "It just didn't click well or lend itself as much to advertising."
However, changing the business name would be risky given the large, pre-existing customer base cultivated for 30 years. To solve the problem, the company divided into two branches: Spa Inspectors as the service branch and the retail segment under a new name called I Heart Hot Tubs.
Another part of the business needed to change, and in a big way: the marketing strategy. Dinkins had advertised regularly in the yellow pages for years, but Schramm thought there was a better way to use that money. Convincing everyone to change course was initially a challenge.
"It took a lot of wrestling at first because my dad's company had been advertising that way for 30 years, so I understand why it was scary," Schramm says.
The company took a vote. When asked how they would look for a service in their area, only one person said they would use the Yellow Pages — and everyone else said they'd look online.
It was decided the company would move away from the Yellow Pages. Fingers would no longer do the walking; computer mice would scroll and do the clicking. The marketing change providing Schramm the opportunity to try something new with I Heart Hot Tubs. His goal was simple:
"Everybody knows what a dealership looks like and everybody knows what the product is, so why not make something funny that sticks out?" he says.
Of the three videos Schramm has made so far, one is by far the most popular. Called "Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Life," (Google that phrase to bring up the video on YouTube) it tells the story of your average Joe and his encounters with his obnoxious, trend-obsessed neighbor. As our Joe takes out the garbage, the neighbor tries to lure him into joining an epic game-day party, large flat screen with "triple-HD" included. The next day, the neighbor and his cronies have completely moved on from tailgating and are engrossed in a new, competition-grade grill.
Of course, that doesn't last either. The next day, it's all about low-riders. And then bicycles. You get the idea.
All the while, our main character skips out on his neighbor's exploits, content with something else in his backyard. Once the neighbor and his friends discover it's a hot tub, everyone flocks next door for a hot tub party.
The lesson: while fads come and go, a hot tub will always get people's attention.
"That particular idea came about through the interactions I have with my own neighbor," Schramm says. "In a fun way, we would always joke with each other when one of us got a new iPhone or something, just kind of joke about keeping up with the Joneses. So we decided to sit down and write a commercial based on that, but have the pinnacle purchase be a hot tub."
While the video features a large cast and a wide assortment of big-ticket items — the flat-screen TV, two low-riders and a fleet of bikes, not to mention costumes to appropriately match each day's theme — Schramm says pulling it all together was made easier with the help of his friends.
"We only spent about $500 total, and that was just making sure that everyone who came over was fed, and we could buy the props and everything," he says. "The rest was just calling in favors from friends and volunteering to help them with things. A couple of my buddies do video production for a living and we've always just made movies together, so it was easy that way to get help."
Schramm initially hoped to get his videos on TV, but the cost was prohibitive. So he turned to the Internet to do the same job for free.
"[We posted it to] Facebook and YouTube, and we just used every means of viral marketing there is these days," he says. For instance, Schramm sent out Instagram still shots from the commercial with a link back to the video.
With nearly 80,000 views, "Thou Shall Not Covet" has gotten a lot of traction — actors in the video have even been recognized by fans as a result. But was all the hard work worth it?
"The best thing to me was when the first customer came in afterwards and said they came into the showroom because they had seen the video," Schramm says. "That was all the reward I needed."
Of, course, there's also the reward of coming up with an idea, standing behind it, and turning it into a success.
"At first, upon seeing the videos, my dad was a little nervous. But when I started getting a good reaction, he asked, 'When are you all going to do another one?'"
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The Pool & Hot Tub Alliance has named Sabeena Hickman as the organization's new president, chief executive officer and staff liaison to the board of directors. Hickman, who most recently served as the CEO of the National Association of Landscape Professionals, brings 20 years of association experience to her new role. She will start September 3. Lawrence Caniglia, current president and CEO, will continue in an advisory role to aid in the transition.
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