Hoover free flights promotion
The Hoover free flights promotion was a marketing promotion on the part of the British division of the Hoover Company, begun in 1992. An offer of free airline tickets which Hoover was unable to pay for resulted in protests and legal action from customers claiming not to have received tickets. It was a costly public relations and financial setback for the company.
To sell surplus washing machines and vacuum cleaners, Hoover promised free airline tickets to customers who purchased a Hoover product worth at least £100. However, Hoover made the process of obtaining these flights as annoyingly time consuming as possible:
- A customer buys a Hoover product for £100+ and mails in a receipt + application within 14 days of purchase.
- Hoover sends a registration form; the customer has 14 days to send it back.
- Hoover sends a travel voucher; the customer has 30 days to select 3 departure airport, date, and destination combinations.
- Hoover has the right to reject the customer’s choices; the customer can select 3 alternatives.
- Hoover also has the right to reject these alternatives and select 3 combinations of its own choosing; if they don’t work, the customer is out of luck.
Initially the offer was for two round-trip tickets to select destinations in Europe, which proved highly successful in clearing the surplus. As few customers actually used the vouchers, Hoover expanded the offer to include destinations in the United States.
However, at this point the consumer response increased enormously, as Hoover was offering around £600 of airline tickets for an outlay of just £100. Customers opted to purchase the cheapest product that was enough to satisfy the £100 requirement, with some not even bothering to pick up the product they had purchased. The Hoover factory had to switch to seven-day working and hire additional employees to meet the demand for the cheapest qualifying vacuum cleaner.
It was estimated that enough people tried to convert their vouchers to tickets to fill 500 Boeing 747s (the largest-capacity passenger planes of the time). Ultimately the £30m in extra sales the promotion attracted was exceeded by the £50m it cost to pay for the airline seats as well as to settle the legal claims of those (the majority) who did not receive tickets.
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.
Repercussions and legal action
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 sacked 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 1995.
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. As a result, the British Royal Family withdrew its Royal Warrant.
- Crockett, Zachary. "The worst sales promotion in history". thehustle.co. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
- William Ryberg (April 7, 1993). "Free Vacuum Cleaner Travel agency deal on flights turns tables on Hoover fiasco". Des Moines Register. p. 1. Retrieved 23 July 2017 – via newspapers.com.
- Sarah Rainey (25 October 2012). "Has the Royal Warrant lost its lustre?". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
- Gerry McCusker (2006). Public Relations Disasters: Talespin--Inside Stories and Lessons Learnt. Kogan Page Publishers. pp. 194–5. ISBN 978-0-7494-4572-0.
- Hoover Free Flights - The Inside Story. Available Amazon Kindle e- book. May 2019. https://www.amazon.com/Hoover-Free-Flights-Inside-Story/dp/1072819783/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
- 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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Hoover Free Flights - The Inside Story . Published May 2019. Amazon Kindle.https://www.amazon.com/Hoover-Free-Flights-Inside-Story/dp/1072819783/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=