Mattress Co. Simmons Firms Up Marketing Plan

Simmons Co. will give a “demonstrable” boost to its marketing in the coming year as the No. 2 mattress maker prepares to launch several new models and go public under new ownership, a company executive said last week.

“You’ll see us be more aggressive [than before],” said Scott Whitaker, vp of marketing at Simmons.

Simmons—which spent about $1 million in each of the past two years on advertising, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus—has not launched a major campaign since the mid-1990s. Simmons and category leader Sealy—which last year spent approximately $10 million on advertising, according to Nielsen—together claim almost half of the nation’s annual $4.7 billion mattress business. Whitaker declined to reveal Simmons’ new ad budget, but said it would be a “substantial increase” from recent years.

Whitaker, who joined the Atlanta-based company in March from Sprint, has hired Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett in Chicago to handle consumer work and independent Trone Atlanta for trade advertising, in-store promotions and displays, dealer efforts and public relations. The shops will back Simmons this fall as the company launches its first new product in four years, as well as new models in each of four lines. The company has traditionally introduced one model per year, Whitaker said.

Trone has strong connections to the client. Co-creative directors Jeff Cole and Brad Ramsey worked on Simmons’ last major effort while at TuckerWayne (now WestWayne) in Atlanta. The campaign featured a bowling ball dropping on a Simmons mattress without disturbing the pins arranged on top. Trone’s president, Jackson Houk, was a brand director at Simmons at the time.

“When they showed up to pitch this, it was like putting on an old hat,” Whitaker said. “There’s a lot of chemistry between them and myself.”

Simmons plans to stay consistent with the strategy illustrated by its continuing tagline, “Better sleep through science,” although Trone is creating new taglines for each of the models slated to be unveiled at the fall International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C., next month. Trone Atlanta, a unit of High Point-based Trone, created all the displays and supporting materials for the Simmons products that will be featured at the event, the largest trade show in the furniture industry.

Simmons—whose revenue last year rose about 14 percent to approximately $806 million from 2002, second in the category to Sealy’s $1.2 billion, according to Hoover’s Online—formerly worked with independent Arras Group in Cleveland. That shop mostly did trade advertising that focused on specific product features.

The increased commitment to new models and marketing are facets of more sweeping changes at the 134-year-old company. Last December, Thomas H. Lee Partners, a Boston private-equity firm, bought Simmons from Fenway Partners, a New York-based private-investment firm, for $1.1 billion. Fenway, owners since 1998, retained a 10 percent stake. Thomas H. Lee said in May that it plans to take the company public. No date for the IPO has been set.