When Sanford C. Sigoloff, star of the Builders Emporium commercials, made a quiet exit from the company, he left behind one big problem.
How would the home improvement chain replace its high profile spokesman, whose "We got the message, Mr. Sigoloff!" television ad campaign helped turn around the chain's fortunes.
For the time being, Builders Emporium has slipped in a substitute: actor William Wintersole. But his ads are running for only a week, ending Dec. 17. He would be less noticeable in the TV spots were he not delivering virtually the same script--minus the "Mr. Sigoloff!" line, which actually was eliminated earlier--on the same set that Sigoloff used until last Thursday.
On that day WCI holdings completed its purchase of Wickes Cos., parent of Builders Emporium, and Sigoloff stepped down as chairman, chief executive and director of Wickes. Sigoloff, who was not available for comment Tuesday, has not announced his plans.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 15, 1988 Home Edition Business Part 4 Page 2 Column 4 Financial Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Sanford C. Sigoloff's commercials for Builders Emporium were produced in-house at its parent firm, Wickes Cos., not by Builders Emporium itself as reported in Wednesday's editions.
After the Wintersole ads end their run, Builders Emporium will cease its broadcast advertising while it addresses the tricky task of creating a new campaign that will supercede Sigoloff's effective six-year run as company spokesman. The regional home improvement chain, which operates stores in California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas, spends an estimated $20 million to $30 million annually on advertising.
Most CEOs Can't Do It
"There really is nobody else that has had to go through this problem," observed Renee White Fraser, general manager of Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Echkardt in Los Angeles, which handles Chrysler's advertising. "But with the merger acquisition fever, it may happen more frequently."
Only a handful of chief executives currently star in their companies' commercials. Best known are Lee Iacocca for Chrysler, Victor Kiam for Remington electric shavers, Barron Hilton for Hilton Hotels and William S. Davila for Vons Grocery Co. When ex-astronaut Frank Borman left Eastern Airlines, the end of his tenure as spokesman was not viewed as a problem because he was widely perceived as ineffective in the advertising.
Use of a chief executive "is not a common advertising approach," explained David W. Stewart, professor of marketing at the University of Southern California. "Chief executives are not by nature good spokesmen for their products. The set of skills that make good CEOs are not ones that make a good pitchman in an ad."
Sigoloff was an exception and will be a tough act to follow. His commercials have made him a household name in Southern California. The ads, which began in 1982, have been credited with restoring credibility, consumer confidence and sales to Builders Emporium. His early "We got the message, Mr. Sigoloff!" spots provided a rallying point when Wickes was plunged into a bankruptcy reorganization six years ago, and they helped boost Builders sales 25% in their first year. Sigoloff also starred in Wickes Furniture commercials.
An Interim Pitch
For the seven-day run of the Wintersole radio and TV spots, Builders Emporium auditioned 25 actors and even screen-tested Builders Emporium President and Chief Executive Jack Edwards. (He was rejected.)
The company plans to unveil a new advertising campaign in March and is in the process of selecting an advertising agency, according to Ted W. Kazleman, executive vice president and chief operating officer. Until last April, the Sigoloff ads had been produced by Builders' own advertising department under the direction of Michael S. Sitrick, senior vice president corporate communications.
For now, Kazleman says Builders Emporium plans to stick with its current "buy with confidence" theme, which offers a three-point price guarantee. "We are working now on how do we deliver the same message in a new format," he explained.
Given that the change occurred in the busy Christmas sales season, Builders Emporium decided on the interim Wintersole ads because, "we knew we had to patch it and keep the continuity until the first year."
And because of Sigoloff's strong identity, Builders Emporium's new ad campaign may stay away from a spokesman format, Kazleman added. "That doesn't put us under pressure to find someone as strong as Sandy . . . where the challenge is created in my opinion is if we tried to bring 'a me-too' type; that's where we would be wrong."
Advertising and marketing executive and academics agree, saying that Builders Emporium is likely to have a transition ad campaign that keeps the chain's name in the consumer's mind. But they added that Builders is unlikely to return with another spokesman.
"Clearly they are going to lose some visibility just because their spokesman was so well identified," USC's Stewart said. "They may continue the same points, but they won't have the power that they did with him as spokesman . . . The idea is to keep visible, a presence in the consumer's mind, but allow time for the former campaign to fade a little in consumer's mind and to try to avoid sharp contrasts."
Fraser at Bozell Jacobs said that since Sigoloff was used as a spokesman for corporate claims about service and pricing, "as long as they can find a way to validate those claims, they can maintain the consumer franchise. I don't think it (Sigoloff's departure) will affect them if they find an effective creative way to stay on the same strategy."
It's not clear to what extent consumers miss Sigoloff. Kazleman says Builders Emporium has not received any calls asking what happened to him. Customers calling Sigoloff for help with store problems are referred to Builders' Chief Executive Jack Edwards.
"I think it helps the firm that he (Sigoloff) left in a low-key fashion," explained USC's Stewart. "Had he left with a lot of fanfare, and high profile, you would have seen a loss of credibility. The fact he left very quietly allows them to make a simple and straight-forward transition."