Hoover free flights promotion
The Hoover free flights promotion was a marketing promotion begun in 1992. The British division of The Hoover Company was carrying a large surplus stock of washing machines and vacuum cleaners and in order to sell them and free up warehouse space, it promised free airline tickets to customers who purchased more than £100 worth of their products. However, what Hoover had not anticipated was that huge numbers of customers started buying Hoover products not because they wanted the actual appliances, but simply because they wanted the tickets.
Initially the offer was for two round-trip tickets to Europe, but later it was expanded to the USA, at which point the consumer response increased enormously, as the normal price of these flights was several times more than the £100 purchase required to get free tickets. The company subsequently found itself overwhelmed by the demand for tickets (and even for new vacuum cleaners) and the cost of the flights.
In 1993, the Hoover Holidays Pressure Group was formed, led by Harry Cichy and Sandy Jack, to protest that the company was not keeping its promises. Buying some shares in Hoover's owners, Maytag, the pressure group went to the Annual General Meeting of Maytag in Newton, Iowa. Sandy Jack expressed his concerns to the CEO of Maytag, Len Hadley. The presence of the group made headline news on ABC and the front cover of The Des Moines Register.
In 1994, Jack took Hoover to court over the free flight promotion. The BBC Watchdog programme's investigation of customer complaints about the promotion, by reporter Simon Walton and undercover researcher Hilary J Bell, brought the matter to even wider public attention.
The executives dismissed for their involvement are William Foust, Managing Director of Hoover Limited and President of Hoover Europe, and the two directors most closely involved with the promotion - Brian Webb, Hoover Vice-President of Marketing, and Michael Gilbey, Director of Marketing Services.
The court cases went on until 1998. After the fiasco had cost the company almost £50 million, the British division of Hoover was sold to the Italian manufacturer Candy.
In 2004 a BBC documentary was made on the anniversary of Cichy and Jack's visit to Newton in 1994. Part of the Trouble at the Top series, the "Hoover Flights Fiasco" was watched by 1.7 million viewers.
Harry E. Cichy subsequently released a book of the incident, titled Fighting The Corporation: The Hoover Flight Fiasco.
- BBC News story: BBC online Hoover's free flights fiasco recalled UK Edition, May 13, 2004
- PROMO magazine: A Bloody Dust Up, Oct 1, 2005
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