Coming out of a recession, mattress sales were down to flat. Industry leader Simmons wanted a jump-start for its business, which includes market stalwarts Beautyrest and ComforPedic.
After a lengthy review of advertising agencies to rebuild the brand, Simmons chose Martin/Williams of Minneapolis to lead the 142-year-old mattress company out of the world of predictable three-day holiday sales and discount-trained consumers into the world of social media and Internet brand activism.
And, along the way, Atlanta-based Simmons wanted a new look at sleep as part of an individual's health and wellness.
Nearly a year in development, Martin/Williams' work on behalf of Simmons can now be seen on the airwaves and in cyberspace with a series of news ads, new websites and mobile apps.
And the central theme of the work is about recharging batteries featuring an icon of a sleeping body lying on a battery.
"We charge everything else, maybe it's time to recharge the human battery," says one version of the new Simmons slogan.
"We're elevating the role of the company from beyond just selling mattresses into being part of the health and wellness of the consumer," said Tom Moudry, the president and chief creative officer of Martin/Williams. "Our biggest challenge was to come out with a voice for Simmons."
A distinctive voice can be a differentiator in the crowded mattress industry, which is known for its competitiveness and brand names like Sealy, Serta, Tempur-Pedic and Select Comfort's Sleep Number.
Martin/Williams is a 60-year-old Minneapolis agency with 170 employees whose clients range from tiny Finnegan's Beer to agricultural giant Syngenta.
The current spate of TV ads for Simmons shows the light side of sleep deprivation, such as a dad pouring coffee over his son's breakfast cereal or a woman exiting the men's room at work with a tag line about living life "fully charged."
But the goal is to convince consumers, who could spend up to $4,000 to $6,000 for a mattress, that a good night's sleep contributes significantly to overall health.
Martin/Williams initially was chosen from 40 agencies to revitalize the Beautyrest line of mattresses but eventually was given the entire Simmons mattress collection, including the new hybrid version of the ComforPedic with memory foam, springs and a ventilation system. The agency also redesigned the company's Web presence, consolidating seven websites into one.
The healthy-living theme was just what Simmons wanted.
"We were researching consumer trends and noticed a big movement into the social space regarding diet and exercise," said Mark Owen, senior vice president of branding for Simmons. "We thought the third leg of that stool was sleep. Martin/Williams helped us solidify the campaign that sleep, exercise and diet lead to a better life."
In talking with retailers who deal directly with showroom customers, Moudry said, the agency learned that more and more mattress purchases are made after consumers get on their smartphones to research the product, take a picture of it and consult with their texting network.
"People are going to believe their social network more than they will believe other external reviews," Moudry said.
Indeed, Martin/Williams has a proprietary marketing tool called an "Alpha panel" that includes early adaptors of products who become the biggest promoters of those products. The agency also uses a tool called "Distillery" to listen to social conversations and analyze the content.
"These are people who can evangelize about the mattress," said Laura Terry, the chief marketing officer for Martin/Williams. "They support and validate a [consumer's] decision."
Terry said the agency also talked to retailers to find out "what moves and what doesn't move and what works and what doesn't work."
Simmons' new marketing strategy has been up and running only since May, so it is premature to tell if sales figures are rising as a result. But Simmons' Owen said the company's market share is 15.7 percent "and climbing."
Moudry said the number of website visits and the length of each visit "jumped exponentially" since May.
"We were looking for a new agency that could literally change the conversation in our category," said Owen. "It's about building awareness and allowing retailers to link in. This resonates well."
Martin/Williams also is handling public relations for Simmons through sister company Karwoski Courage and is donating Beautyrest mattresses to several firehouses of the New York Fire Department. Terry said the biggest surprise to her was "the sameness of the category," which she described as a collection of "white rectangles."
"The industry has commoditized itself to the point the consumer has no idea what he's looking at," Terry said.
David Phelps • 612-673-7269