Mitsubishi Hopes To Heat Up Market For Ductless AC

by , May 31, 2011, 3:56 PM
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Now that the summer heat is on, Mitsubishi's Electric Cooling & Heating division is launching a national campaign touting the company's ductless home air conditioning as an energy-efficient technology that obviates the homeowner's internal debate about whether to swelter for savings or get relief now and pay later.

The effort, via Atlanta-based Ames Scullin O'Haire (ASO), includes TV, print and online, and offers a literal take on that silent debate in a scene reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk's novel Fight Club, in which the protagonist's alter-ego, Tyler Durden, beats himself up in a building stairwell.

In this case, however, the victim (of himself) is a homeowner just looking to get a couple of degrees off of the thermometer by jacking up the AC a tad. His "Tyler Durden" personality won't let him and resorts to violence to prevent him from turning the dial.

The TV spot in 30- and 60-second versions will run nationally during prime time shows on Fox, ABC and CBS and on cable stations, HGTV and DIY Network. Print, starting this month, will run in shelter, lifestyle and remodeling publications, including Better Homes and Gardens and Southern Living.

Online elements include rich-media banner ads that will run on sites like "This Old House" and Mitsubishi Electric's Web site update.

Joe Mastroianni, chief marketing officer at Mitsubishi Electric's heating, ventilation and air conditioning division (HVAC), tells Marketing Daily the opportunity for Mitsubishi ductless systems in the U.S. is both for new houses and older central systems that cost a fortune and are not doing the trick.

"Most new construction doesn't put in sufficient duct work to control temperature throughout the house," he says. "And probably 80% of houses with central have some hot spot or cold spot problem for which our product is a natural solution. The potential is phenomenal."

Patrick Scullin, partner-creative at Atlanta-based ASO, which is on its 15th year as Mitsubishi Electric's AOR, says research informs the creative approach to the campaign -- the largest to date in terms of media commitment. "We found out that during the summer people change their behavior," he says.

"We found that so many people really do go through this internal struggle around comfort versus cost. People told us that they look at the thermostat and equate turning it down even two degrees with how much money it will cost them. It's no different than gas mileage."

He adds that the effort also addresses the ductless system's ability to cool specific rooms. "There are a lot of people with sunrooms who don't even use them during the summer. The idea here is that theoretically with Mitsubishi, you could make these rooms the most comfortable in the house if that's where you spend the most time." Last year's "Air Hunter" campaign, which featured a fictive adventurer seeking to capture perfect air in very real locations in New Zealand, ran on national cable, but this is the first national network-TV buy.

Mastroianni says the company has increased its budget this year after a couple of down years. "It is certainly the first time in broadcast TV we are using big events to kick off the campaign to quickly spike awareness." Cable, which started two days ago, is running on some 15 networks, he says. And network buys are focused on season finales, sports and NASCAR.

Peter Landau, editor of industry journal Indoor Comfort News, tells Marketing Daily that the market potential for ductless systems is huge in the U.S. because -- while such systems are ubiquitous worldwide -- they are all but absent in North America. "They are really trying -- Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, LG, and others -- to market here because it is less than 10% of the market. Also, it's very energy efficient because when you move air around through ducts you lose energy."

The latter point could be critical to fueling demand as California, with its Big, Bold Initiatives, has specifically targeted HVAC for restrictions since it is the biggest culprit on summertime electric-grid draw.

"Ductless systems allow you to bypass a lot of the energy-leakage concerns and major components like sheet metal, and sealing," he says. "There's a big opportunity for ductless systems mainly because there's no penetration. Remember that most homes built in the last 50 years were built with room for ducts. But if California's regulations become national and there are loopholes you have to leap through [to have central heating and cooling], there's potential. It's huge."

Mastroianni agrees. "I think, certainly, all green initiatives would help the ductless category. Any time you run into energy efficiency, that would help drive the category. Which is why you have lots of utilities supportive of [ductless systems] -- because it can help them better manage energy costs."

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