Martha King looked a bit like a quiet college student as she stood under a group of trees recently outside the headquarters of Armstrong Flooring Inc.
But the Chadds Ford native, a Penn State University grad who’s now in her late 20s, transformed as soon as she grabbed an axe.
Making quick, powerful strokes with one of the eight axes she owns, world-champion chopper King quickly split a knee-high block of aspen wood, while some 200 Armstrong employees cheered her on.
“Don’t make her mad!” one said.
King is one of the stars of one of the boldest consumer campaigns ever launched by Armstrong, the century-plus-old Lancaster County manufacturer not known for its colorful marketing splashes.
Called “The Floor is Yours,” the effort is designed to help Armstrong Flooring (NYSE: AFI) reach a new generation of floor buyers. And it features King in a television spot now appearing on HGTV.
Armstrong Flooring is tough enough to withstand anyone’s everyday life, the TV ad’s narrator intones as King goes to town on the company’s wood, demolishing it. “Well, almost anyone’s everyday life,” he adds.
The chopping champion, or “lumberjill,” demonstrated her skills in the outdoor demonstration just after Armstrong Flooring leaders announced the launch of the marketing effort to employees at the Manor Township company in mid-September.
“These products have tended to be the best-kept secret in our industry. No longer,” Joseph Bondi, Armstrong Flooring senior vice president and chief product officer, told several hundred employees.
“We’re flexing a muscle that has been dormant for a long time,” added the company’s director of brand marketing, Ebeth Pitman.
Officials at Armstrong Flooring, who declined to disclosed the cost of the new marketing campaign, said the effort is aimed at reaching a younger, hipper demographic.
It comes as millennials, like King, are starting to buy homes – and possibly needing new floors.
Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000 and making up a quarter of the world’s population, are beginning to flex their spending power – and that power is expected to grow significantly in coming years, Floor Trends magazine said in a recent article.
“While they’re years from fully establishing themselves, they’re already having a marked impact on the consumer landscape, and retailers and designers are learning how to align themselves to best market to this important consumer group,” the Floor Trends article stated.
Research has found that millennials are the most active purchasers of flooring, and they represented the highest percentage of carpet purchases of any group, the article continued. In 2015, 65 percent of millennials who were in the market for flooring bought a hard-surface product and 51 percent bought carpet, it added.
An area marketing expert and college professor who has seen the TV spot gives Armstrong Flooring’s new effort a better-than-even chance of success.
“It’s probably a good move for them, because Armstrong is not a brand that’s associated with anything like this,” said Franklin & Marshall College marketing professor Jeffrey Podoshen, who likes how the TV spot delivers information and makes a visual impact.
“It’s telling me about the value of Armstrong at the sales level, and it’s also giving this message to the consumer that it is durable and strong, so the consumer is going to demand it at the flooring store,” he said.
The ad reminds Podoshen a little of the famed 1970s spot of a gorilla abusing luggage – many people mistakenly recall the ad being for Samsonite, but it actually touted the toughness of its rival American Tourister – to show the product’s durability: “Armstrong’s spot kind of conveys this message of durability and quality, in the hopes that it goes viral.”
Another expert in the field, David DiRusso, an associate professor of marketing at Millersville University, said Armstrong’s new ad does a lot of things right.
“It stands out from the competition, it is produced well, has an excellent slogan, showcases a fantastic spokesperson for the product, and is a great foundation for a long running campaign,” DiRusso said.
“It is extremely non-traditional for a flooring company, but that is because it needs to be to reach out to a younger audience. Many ads in the flooring industry are straightforward and price/deal focused, which can certainly be effective, but it doesn’t help them stand out,” he said. “This campaign can actually get people excited about customizing their current or future home instead of dreading the process.”
None of that guarantees success, DiRusso said, and now Armstrong Flooring has to convert the excitement from the spot into excitement for its specific products, he added.
In addition to featuring King in its ads, Armstrong Flooring also is showcasing younger stars in their fields, like U.S. national rhythmic gymnast Nastasya Generalova and DJ/tastemaker Yolo Ono.
Armstrong Flooring said HGTV is a top media influencer among dealers and consumers in its field, and the effort with the network also will include digital advertising and social videos that HGTV will promote on its Facebook page.
Armstrong Flooring spun off from Armstrong World Industries in April 2016. It has 775 full-time local employees and 25 part-time, and had just under $1.2 billion in company-wide revenue the last two years, according to information it provided to the Business Journal.