Originally created 01/09/98

Carpet campaign hits airwaves



ATLANTA -- The carpet industry has had its share of hard knocks lately, but it's rolling out its first nationwide advertising effort in hopes of ensuring a soft landing.

During the holidays, TV commercials showed families cozily sprawled on carpet while opening presents or gathering around a Christmas tree.

The theme was, "Carpet: It just feels better."

The $100 million, four-year campaign was unveiled Nov. 10 at the annual meeting of The Carpet & Rug Institute, a trade association based in Dalton, Ga. The first commercial aired on the CBS-TV series Cybill that night, and others have run on network and cable channels. The ads are modeled after other industrywide pitches such as "Cotton: Fabric of our lives."

The carpet industry intends to boost carpet sales with the promotional campaign, but the ads also may bolster morale in an industry that has been under investigation by federal authorities.

The ad campaign may also be good for companies that make products carpet manufacturers need.

DSM Chemicals North America Inc., which is based in Augusta and has a factory here that makes a chemical product used in the production of carpet yarn, can profit if the campaign boosts carpet sales, said Ron Waller, DSM vice president of sales.

"It's a well thought-out program," Mr. Waller said. "If the campaign is successful, it would certainly be positive. Time will tell."

About 40 to 50 percent of DSM's product is sold to carpet manufacturers, and the company is an associate member of The Carpet & Rug Institute, Mr. Waller said.

The national carpet campaign was developed by Chicago's Leo Burnett agency from a survey by Heller Research of New York. The survey concluded that most consumers think carpet gives a room a cozy family feel and that new carpet can transform a room -- but few consumers give much thought to carpet and tend to wait as long as possible to replace it.

The first TV commercials depicted sweet family scenes: children sprawled on carpet watching TV, a baby crawling, a father giving a piggyback ride and a restless man falling asleep on his carpet after rolling off his sofa. The tag line was: "New carpet: it's soft; it's warm; it's home."

Cheryl Marengo, manager of Augusta retailer Carpet Country, likes the commercials. "I think they're great -- simple and to the point," she said.

Other ads for broadcast and print will target the commercial market, and there are plans for home-makeover contests and other promotional events this year.

So far, no one that Ms. Marengo knows of has rushed into her store to buy carpet because they saw a warm-fuzzy television ad. But, she said, the fact that the ads are suggesting to consumers that they want carpet may be enough. The ads plant the idea in people's heads.

Charles Baynham, manager of GCO Carpet Outlet in Aiken, said he doesn't know about the multimillion dollar carpet campaign. But he has used local advertising to attract customers.

"It's a proven fact," he said. "Advertising works."

In recent years, growth in carpet sales has slowed, and manufacturers have become wary about the increasing market shares for alternative flooring such as hardwood and laminate. Carpet's share has declined from an estimated 80 percent to 63 percent in the past decade.

Besides market concerns, the carpet industry has been under siege by investigators looking into allegations of price-fixing.

No. 3 carpet maker Beaulieu of America and No. 2 manufacturer Mohawk Industries said in October they were informed that a three-year Justice Department probe had ended with them cleared of wrongdoing. In 1995, Sunrise Carpets admitted antitrust violations in a plea agreement.

A civil suit alleging industry price-fixing is still pending. In addition, The Chattanooga Times recently reported that Beaulieu workers had been questioned about political campaign contributions, and that on Sept. 29., federal agents raided Beaulieu offices and hauled off numerous corporate records. Federal officials have declined to comment on the raid.

Lorraine Miller, an analyst at Robinson-Humphrey in Atlanta, said, overall, the issue for the industry is its slow growth. She said the joint campaign approach has been successful for other industries.

"I think the general outlook for the industry is that this isn't necessarily going to be a cure-all, but it might help to stem some of the erosion," she said.

Staff Writer Frank Witsil contributed to this article.