Topics Magazine Find It EXHIBITORLIVE eTrak FastTrak Certification Awards News Advertise
& Experiences
Design Awards
RFPs & Booth
Fabric, Flooring
& More
product launch

isa Rowland faced a challenge the size of a walk-in freezer. The marketing and merchandising manager for major appliances at AB Electrolux's North American division was tasked with debuting the Stockholm, Sweden-based company's armada of 108 new high-end (aka premium) appliances at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show and Conference (K/BIS) last April. Introducing such an avalanche of products at a trade show would be a headache anytime, but in Rowland's case it quickly escalated to a migraine.

Lisa Rowland, marketing and merchandising manager for major appliances at AB Electrolux's North American Division, began her marketing career in the medical field. Over the years, she has worked on a variety of projects, including providing the Queen Mary 2 with a kitchen to working on an ice-sculpture parade of architectural icons in Central Park.
While Electrolux was labeled "The top maker of household appliances worldwide" by business-reference site Hoovers.com, and has been prized in Europe for its upscale lines of refrigerators, dishwashers, cooking ranges, and other household appliances, for almost 80 years, U.S. consumers have mostly associated the brand with vacuum cleaners. Now, over the course of a few days at K/BIS, the company wanted that image vacuumed up. Instead, Electrolux wanted the media to spotlight the exhibit and the company as a high-end appliance manufacturer, and it wanted the highly influential designers who attend the show to leave it associating Electrolux not with a mundane (and substantially cheaper) household apparatus that picks up lint and cat hair, but with European-designed premium appliances that carry platinum price tags. It was like McDonald's Corp. trying to become renowned among certified master chefs and the culinary media for selling coq au vin virtually overnight.

Rowland knew that debuting her product successfully at K/BIS was as important to the company's long-range success as premiering a movie profitably on its opening weekend. The momentum and exposure a product launch gains at K/BIS creates a snowball effect, which results in an ever-expanding feedback loop of media coverage and word of mouth, which in turn results in more coverage and word of mouth - and, ultimately, in people purchasing your product. Making a good impression is even more critical considering that 78 percent of K/BIS attendees in 2008 reported that they planned to purchase products from the show's exhibitors within the next year.

But exhibiting at K/BIS is no cake walk. The trade show is reputed to be the world's largest exhibition in the kitchen and bath industry with nearly 900 exhibitors vying for the attention of more than 700 reporters and 45,000 industry professionals. Rowland would have to compete against better-known brands such as Kenmore Elite and Jenn-Air for the attention of influential editors if she wanted to reach management's goal of generating 5 million media impressions as a result of the show. It was a challenge as nerve jangling as if she had to compete in a timed cook-off against Rachael Ray armed with only a microwave and a hot plate.

So K/BIS 2008 was break-the-bank critical for Electrolux. Rowland not only had to draw attention to the brand and remold attendees' impression of it, but she had to capture the attention of the media and stand out amid a flotilla of stiff competition trying to do the same thing. And should her efforts fizzle like New Coke, sales would undoubtedly suffer. "It's a high-pressure show where we simply had to make a statement," Rowland says.

The Cupcake Queen

Rowland found her statement-making solution in an unlikely source: talk-show host Kelly Ripa. Hired by Electrolux as the public face of its new appliance line, Ripa appealed to its target demographic - high-income females age 30 to 55, who are adventurous, open to new technology, and as Rowland says, "Want it all."

The perky co-star of "Live with Regis and Kelly" filmed a series of television commercials for Electrolux slated to debut shortly before the show opened in April. In one dubbed "The Cupcake Queen," Ripa sips a glass of white wine with a yuppieish neighbor in their apartment building, as the neighbor hands out homemade cupcakes to a mantourage of beefcakes who keep ringing her bell. Rowland figured an adaptation of the ad might be just the thing to set Electrolux apart from its competitors - and perhaps add a gonzo twist to its exhibit.

While Rowland and her booth designer, the Fairborn, OH, division of Czarnowski Inc., originally cooked up an exhibit theme that centered on a Ripa-like entertainer, Rowland soon realized that when you have show-floor rivals like Kohler Co. (where visitors entered the VibrAcoustic chamber and were showered with relaxing music, massaging vibrations, and color-therapy lights) or TurboChef Technologies Inc. (which hired popular celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman to perform his culinary magic using the company's products), the booth would have to be more than just a glorified bake sale.

So the team extended the Ripa idea to that of a cupcake-centric exhibit concept, featuring Ripa's images but centering on the cupcakes, which of course would be baked and housed in Electrolux's in-booth appliances and handed out to dessert-deprived attendees. Rowland hoped the scent of fresh-baked cupcakes might even psychologically disarm attendees walking the trade show floor.

Rowland figured that with their interest piqued, mouths watering, and resistance diminished, attendees would gravitate toward an exhibit filled with familiar media images, not to mention more cupcakes than you could shake a Ding-Dong at. Once in the booth, she hoped they would be intrigued by the sleek army of appliances, and won over by cupcakes and live demonstrations of what the appliances can do.

The Breakfast Club

Even with an aromatic booth laden with product demos and yummo cupcakes, Roland knew she had to think outside the boxy booth to meet her goals. Because time on the show floor is finite - attendees spend an average of just 8.3 hours per show viewing exhibits, according to the Dallas-based Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) - she decided on a strategy of capturing attendees' attention before any other exhibitor could.

Starting a month before K/BIS opened, she sent two waves of e-mails to approximately 150 certified kitchen designers (CKDs), interior designers, and editors of targeted consumer and industry publications, inviting them to a pre-show breakfast in the booth on the show's first day. While a small number by itself, Rowland considered these particular designers and journalists to be alpha ambassadors whose opinions would potentially influence hundreds if not thousands of customers. While the 6,000-square-foot booth may have been physically able to accommodate a larger group, she also felt focusing on a smaller gathering would be more intimate. Furthermore, by limiting the guest list, the 120-strong Electrolux staff would have abundant one-on-one time to talk with each guest, and thereby be more effective in communicating the company's brand message.

Nearly 85 attendees made it to the morning meal (20 more than expected) - a substantial turnout given that a blizzard had blanketed the Northeast, delaying the arrival of thousands of attendees. From 7:30 to 9:00 that morning, Electrolux plied the invitees with gourmet pastries, fruit, and, of course, cupcakes, while its professional chefs prepared a duo of delectable dishes: Lamb chops with rosemary and garlic salmon ceviche using the new line of ovens to demonstrate the delicacies they could produce. Between bites, guests discussed the new products with members of the staff, set up formal in-booth appointments to talk more during the show, and even chatted with Keith McLoughlin, Electrolux's head of major appliances for North America.

By giving the select clique a sneak preview of the booth and the new, premium product line, Rowland had whetted their appetite for additional information before K/BIS even opened, and all without having to compete for their attention during the chaos of the show when she would have mere seconds to demonstrate the 108 new Electrolux products. "Getting the ball rolling before the show opened got people talking about Electrolux," Rowland says. "That gave us a huge advantage."

With the envoys primed, prepped, and stuffed like bell peppers by the pre-show repast, they began spreading the word of the Electrolux exhibit and its featured appliances through Chicago's McCormick Place, driving other attendees to the booth in droves. And if the word of mouth didn't reach them, the appetizing aroma of fresh-baked cupcakes did. "I knew that the scent of baked goods would help extend the exhibit's reach over the show floor," Rowland says. "That way, even if attendees hadn't heard about the booth, they would definitely smell it and, hopefully, follow their noses to it."

Take the Cake

No more able to resist the call of the cupcakes than Hansel and Gretel could the lure of gingerbread, visitors swarmed the exhibit. There, they encountered two main entrances where exterior video walls played the chirpy "The Cupcake Queen" commercial.

What Rowland cooked up to offset the company's rivals was an exhibit that looked like Willy Wonka built it after binging on Hostess Ho Hos. Stepping into the 80-by-80-foot space, guests found themselves standing before a soaring 16-foot-tall, LED-lit fabric cone the shape of a champagne flute in the center of the booth. Winding around the cone from top to bottom like rings around Saturn were shelves that held 320 wine bottles, while surrounding its base was a clear-glass walkway 50 feet in diameter. Below the transparent flooring, Electrolux arranged its pièce de résistance of pastry: dozens of green-, blue-, and yellow-frosted cupcakes that seemed to float under attendees' feet like edible Monet-painted water lilies.

Crowning the booth overhead with the grandeur of a giant sparkling tiara, 240 wine glasses and 80 incandescent bulbs illuminated the space and reflected off the cupcakes under the floor like soft-hued gems. Hanging from tinsel-thin wire threaded through milk chocolate-colored metal platters that were both connected to a truss, the lightscape of goblets and bulbs seemed suspended in mid-air as if under a spell. While visitors gaped like Golden Ticket winners in the Wonka Chocolate Factory, they inhaled the sugary incense of the cooking confections and gobbled cupcakes hot out of the oven. Willing captives of the eccentric design and the enticing dessert, attendees strolled through the exhibit's showcase taking the time to evaluate the dozens of new products.

Having Their Cupcake and Eating it Too

If all Electrolux had to offer were cupcakes, visitors would have left stuffed but not necessarily sold on the company's brand. So Rowland cleverly and matter-of-factly integrated the desserts into product demonstrations, once again folding the TV ads, the treats, and the new products into a smooth batter.

With working kitchens located in each corner of the exhibit and the eau de cupcake continually wafting through the show floor, the Electrolux chefs manning each kitchen demonstrated the features of the company's new ovens while baking the pastries.

For example, while the cupcakes baked, staff encouraged visitors to press their palms against the ovens' exteriors to see how cool the outside surface stayed while the inside, just inches away, heated at 350 degrees. When the cupcakes were done, the chefs opened the oven doors to show how they stayed firmly in place at any angle. Then they pulled the pastry-filled oven racks out to show how effortlessly they glided on an improved ball-bearing system. And finally, just as the proof is in the pudding, the clincher was in the cupcakes: Booth staff handed out the fresh, hot goodies on napkins to attendees, whose informal taste tests validated the company's claims about the ovens' uniform-cooking abilities.

How Sweet It Is
AB Electrolux served up a savory space to attendees with a transparent walkway 50 feet in diameter filled with cupcakes; a 16-foot-high, LED-lit fabric cone bejeweled with 240 wine goblets and 80 incandescent bulbs; and video loops of "Cupcake Queen" Kelly Ripa that seamlessly linked the company's ad campaign to the exhibit. While attendees explored the 6,400-square-foot booth, they tested Electrolux's new premium line of 108 appliances and munched on cupcakes fresh from the oven.

The Icing on the Cake

The delicious taste left in visitors' mouths came from more than just the 5,000 cupcakes Electrolux distributed to roughly 11 percent of the show's attendees. An in-booth survey conducted during the show found 92 percent of visitors left the exhibit with an equally favorable or increasingly favorable opinion of the company, surpassing Rowland's goal of 75 percent. Additionally, 76 percent of attendees reported they would "definitely recommend" Electrolux to their customers.

But those numbers paled next to the company's main goal of generating 5 million media impressions, defined as the total number who see, read, or hear a particular media item. Over the course of the show, Electrolux gave 80 interviews to the media, which were drawn to the booth by the bouquet of baking, the word of mouth about the new appliances, and the tie-in to the familiar ad campaign. The exhibit generated an astounding 7 million impressions - 40 percent above its objective - with coverage from the Chicago Tribune, AdWeek.com, and HeraldTribune.com, as well as two related show Web sites, KBISLive.com and KBISShowDaily.com.

The media weren't the only ones who were bowled over by Rowland's trifecta of dessert, demos, and design. "I loved how Lisa incorporated a visually stimulating environment with product demonstrations," said one All-Star Awards judge. "She excited the senses with taste, touch, smell, and a very stimulating environment - and her results prove the strategy was very effective." But just like a great pastry chef whipping up an award-winning recipe, Rowland made it look like a piece of cake. e

Charles Pappas, senior writer; cpappas@exhibitormagazine.com

you might also like

Shipping and Transportation
Legacy Logistics
Lead Retrieval
Divinitas, Inc.
>> More Products
Join the EXHIBITOR Community Search the Site
Measurement & Budgeting
Planning & Execution
Marketing & Promotion
Events & Venues
Personal & Career
Exhibits & Experiences
International Exhibiting
Resources for Rookies
Research & Resources
Subscribe Today!
Renew Subscription
Update Address
Exhibit & Display Producers
Products & Services
Supplier to Supplier
All Companies
Get Listed
Exhibit Hall
Exhibit at the Show
The Program
Steps to Certification
Faculty and Staff
Enroll in CTSM
Submit Quiz Answers
Sizzle Awards
All-Star Awards
Exhibit Design Awards
Portable/Modular Awards
Corporate Event Awards
Company News
New Products
Shows & Events
Venues & Destinations
© Exhibitor Media Group | The Leader in Trade Show and Corporate Event Marketing Education 310 South Broadway, Suite 101, Rochester, MN 55904 | (507) 289-6556 | Need Help? Ask Scott