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 its products. However, Hoover had not anticipated that huge numbers of customers would buy the qualifying 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 the destinations were later expanded to include the USA. At this 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 both for tickets and for new vacuum cleaners, and by the cost of the flights. Hoover had apparently not anticipated this outcome.
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 parent company, Maytag, the pressure group went to the Maytag Annual General Meeting 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.
A number of Hoover executives were terminated for their parts in the fiasco, including
- William Foust, managing director of Hoover Ltd and president of Hoover Europe
- Brian Webb, Hoover vice-president of marketing
- Michael Gilbey, director of marketing services
The court cases went on until 1998. After the "disaster" 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.
- 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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