Diehard Marketing

November 3, 2002

in Brand Futures

With the turn of winter Sears began running a “Diehard Express Service” TV campaign in our local market. They guarantee you will have your new battery installed in 30 minutes or less. After two jump starts in less than a week (39 month old original equipement Chrysler battery) I knew mine was dead, and just wanted it fixed. My Dad had Diehard batteries… must be good enough for me. So, why go to PEP BOYS or try and find somewhere else? Afterall with two cars I only shop for a battery every 3 or four years.

The Sears TVC is a classic retail marketing approach. Too bad no-one told the stores, or even set the instructions so the campaign had the potential to work. 10 years ago only my neighbors might have heard this story. Now, it simply recorded, a part of my digital record and lifestream. Who knows one day maybe even the bots… will be able to sample the records and see when disatisfaction really set in and thus the demise of a brand. Let me quickly set the scene…


I arrived at the “Express Lane” for my battery service. There were four cars in front of me and one battery mechanic working and wandering. There was no greeting, there was no instruction board, there was no buzzer. As a good marketer, I got out of my car, punched my stopwatch and started into the garage. Nobody, lots of idle cars at 1:30pm Sunday. After five minutes finally caught someones attention…. he told me to go into the sales office and ask there.

In the sales office was met by a genial rep. Told him I thought I needed a new battery. He said he would write it up and immediately started on a bill. I had to stop him and say…”hey but the battery hasn’t been checked yet — how do I this is the right course of action? He took me outside, we hooked up the car and indeed the diagnostic was “replace”. Now we were already at minute 14.

Returning to the sales office he suggested a battery for the car, about $80. Smiled and said fine. He rang it up and handed me the bill. The bill included tax and 9.99 for installation labor. He hadn’t mentioned a charge. I guess mistakenly I’d thought installation was free, covered by the core charge for the old one. Still, no worries. My mistake only $10 and they promised to get me out of here in less than 30minutes!

Then the bad news. “We need 45 minutes to an hour” (from now) to get it done. I was flabbergasted. It’s three nuts to change the battery so where is all the time. I asked about the advertising. No he couldn’t do it. So I then asked if I could borrow a wrench and just do it myself. Why wait 45 when I could be done in 5? “Well sir — tools could be a problem. In the meantime, he’s voided my first bill providing the second with no labor. The crowd on the counter is growing and another knowing customer says if I wait they will give me a $10.00 voucher for a future purchase. Guess that would have made the installation free. Still, this is not how retail is supposed to work. In the end. I took the battery home. Now I have an old one sitting in my garage. Will have to return it one day.

I liked Sears. I loved Craftman tools, Hillary camping gear, my first 10 speed came from there. Still other than a leaf blower, a lawn mower and a Diehard, there not much I buy there now. May visit once or twice a year. Not any more. The reps at home depot are better informed.

So what’s the problem? Many executional ones from a marketing point. Poor communication, a very tired product. And I begin to wonder. Who could do tires and batteries better? What would it take? Can I book the appointments on line, say for tires. Still let’s not go there today. Tires are just as infrequent. But when a battery dies… you need it immediately. With an automatic you live in fear of stalling. You just want to get going.

So “Express Service” is a good idea, there’s a need. Got me there instead of going to PEP BOYS, which is the only other place that came to mind. If my experience is anything to go by. The advertising if false. They aren’t delivering. Yet there are so many ways to fix this. I just see money falling off the bottom line. Wasted advertsing, destroyed brand value, lost profits in vouchers, etc.

In 25 minutes I learnt. That a 50 year old Auto Centre approach no-longer works. That I wouldn’t be caught dead in the waiting lounge. That the decor, design and color cues were all non-existent, and the mechanics are completely divorced from the frontline. The merchandising is not merchandising, and the fun has gone out of driving the Sears automotive way. Where was the experience? My car now works, though my efforts. There was no joy in it. There is no story about the future of motoring. There is nothing about preparing for family vacations. Nothing about safety, stopping distances, looking after your children. No counters to check auto insurance while I’m waiting etc.

From a brand that was once… part of “motoring together” now there is only supplying the parts that are falling off or worn out. Even Sears history statement finishes limply…”Building our relationships one customer at a time, Sears continues to live up to its tried and true motto, satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. Let us deliver great customer service to you, with speed and expertise.”

So. the Sears tag line “Where else?”. Yes indeed — where else can I go next time?

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