Author:William Baue

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31-10 48th Ave.

Long Island City, New York 11101


Telephone: (718) 472-1200

Fax: (718) 482-6561

Web site: www.mattress.com


By repositioning Dial-A-Mattress, a seemingly fly-by-night operation with B-grade commercials, as a company on the cutting edge of so-called anti-advertising, the "Always Out There" campaign demonstrated the importance of taking chances. Dial-A-Mattress first took a chance by hiring Dweck & Campbell in New York, a young agency with a penchant for guerilla marketing, such as spray painting brand names on Manhattan sidewalks, to handle most aspects of the makeover. Dweck, in turn, took a chance by selecting 30-year-old John O'Hagan to direct the three introductory commercials in the campaign. Hagen, a 1996 graduate of New York University Film School, had directed an award-winning documentary for his thesis but no television spots. Dweck, which had very strong creative people but no staff producer, according to 31-one-year-old producer Larry Shanet, took a further chance by hiring Shanet to produce the spots, his first freelance assignment after working for four years at Siquis Ltd. in Baltimore.

This willingness to take risks culminated in a series of three 30-second television spots described as "very odd" and even "demented," terms that translated into compliments in the contemporary advertising lexicon. Dweck mirrored the atmosphere of the commercials with oddball marketing tactics, such as advertising on carry-out pizza boxes and Chinese take-home cartons. The campaign also initiated a number of changes that transformed the face that Dial-A-Mattress presented to the public, including a script for its customer service representatives to use when fielding orders over the telephone, new uniforms for its delivery people, and a redesigned company logo that was painted on the sideboards of its truck fleet.

The commercials introduced these changes by following the misadventures of two imperturbable delivery-men as they deposited mattresses in the households of customers who revealed themselves to be very strange. "Arctic Ground Squirrel" featured a man in a squirrel costume who intended to hibernate all winter in his basement; "Wrestlers" featured a husband-and-wife team re-creating the antics of pro wrestlers; and "Wannabe" featured a uniform freak who dressed up in a Dial-A-Mattress uniform. The spots generated humor by focusing on the contrast between the eccentricity of the customers and the unflappability of the deliverymen, who seemed to have seen it all.


Dweck & Campbell president Michael Dweck described his client Dial-A-Mattress succinctly: "It's the FedEx of mattress companies." More precisely, Dial-A-Mattress amounted to a marriage of a phone-order catalog company and an overnight delivery service. Customers

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phoned in an order to Dial-A-Mattress, and then one of the company's delivery trucks, which were on the road 24 hours a day, arrived at the customer's home with a choice of three mattresses to compare. The ultimate resting place of the product—the customer's own bedroom—thus served, quite appropriately, as the showroom.

In 1999 an article in Advertising Age pointed out that "prior to [the 'Always Out There'] campaign, Dial-A-Mattress was known in the New York area for painfully bad TV spots." In fact, the constraints of advertising budgets across the bedding category created a genre of advertising so uniformly awful that it generated a sub-genre of ads that parodied the stereotypical bedding commercials. So Dial-A-Mattress was well positioned to use parody in its advertising, provided it could find an agency attuned...

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