John Weinstock, LG

You don’t expect much controversy from the sleepy household appliance segment, but here you had LG drawing ire for one of the most un-green campaigns imaginable. At a time when Wal-Mart had executed a dramatic 360 on the issue and used its heft to force vendors to shrink their package sizes and in general become more eco-friendly, LG was running ads advocating the gleeful destruction of aging household appliances.

A violence-tinged set of broadcast spots, from BrandBuzz, New York, showed females swapping the old washing machine or dishwasher for a more stylish premium product offered—natch—by LG. One ad showed an elegantly dressed lady shoving her old washing machine off a diving board into a pool. In another, a woman dreamed of tying her current refrigerator to some railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train. Landfills be damned. Let the old make way for the new.

Environmentalists weren’t amused. “If there were some kind of great energy savings to justify the purchase, that would be one thing,” said Robert Weissman, managing director at Commercial Alert, Washington, “but it shouldn’t just be a matter of this new unit being cool.” The thing is, the new units did look pretty cool. Stainless steel and sleek, they made your old Frigidaire look about as hip as parachute pants.

The attention-getting campaign was the work of LG’s vp of marketing, John Weinstock, who arrived at the company last year fresh from marketing facial cleaners to teenagers at Johnson & Johnson. “The idea in the campaign is that it was fantasy,” said Weinstock, who was noncommittal about the future of the campaign, though he noted brand awareness jumped 20% in the first six months the ads ran.

That latest pop came after a strong run for the brand. LG has scored annual sales gains of at least 20% since it first invaded the U.S. appliance segment. Overall, the brand moved from No. 5 to No. 3 in dollar sales of both washers and dryers between 2005 and 2007, and from No. 8 to No. 6 in refrigerator sales, per NPD Group, Port Washington N.Y. In the U.S., the brand also is the top-seller of front-loading washing machines, with a market share of 23.4%, per The Stevenson Company, Louisville, Ky.

Moreover, LG, which Weinstock said sells “high-end appliances to average consumers,” commands an average price of $892 per washing machine, which is slightly higher than the competition.

Designs on the U.S. Market
That’s pretty good for a brand that wasn’t even in the category at the beginning of this decade. When LG, a Korean conglomerate known for making everything from cell phones to petrochemicals in its native country, signed BrandBuzz, New York, to handle its appliance business in the U.S. in 2001, LG’s appliance unit had a staff of two in its marketing department. Only eight stores carried the products.

“We were doing everything from hand-delivering dealer kits to creating print ads,” said BrandBuzz president Mike Reese. “LG’s marketing discipline was not nearly as sophisticated as it is now and we had a much larger role than we have now.”

LG knew one thing about the segment that rivals didn’t, or at least didn’t capitalize on: Study after study was coming out by the time Weinstock came on board showing that consumers were obsessed with design not only in clothes and cars, but in other items. It had started with cell phones and was spreading like necrotizing fasciitis to other categories. In appliances, the hot look was stainless steel, which conveyed a certain snob appeal (thanks to prices more than double the norm) and made old appliance designs look downscale by comparison. LG jumped into the fray by offering stainless steel designs (and later, color) at moderate prices.