Monday morning, Brian Kirkendall was a busy marketing executive, husband, and second generation soap opera viewer. Monday afternoon, he was a hero to legions of “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” fans after posting a note to Hoover’s Facebook page announcing that the company was pulling its ads from ABC in response to viewer complaints about ABC’s decision to cancel its soaps. By Monday night, his note went viral with major entertainment websites writing articles about Hoover’s decision. A day later, the story has been covered in newspapers and even on CNN Headline news. Now Kirkendall explains why he decided to take action. It’s a story of how a man who only intended to provide good customer service ended up creating a social networking phenomenon. Not coincidentally, it’s also the story of a man who watches soap operas.
Why did you decide to pull Hoover’s ads from ABC in support of the canceled soap operas?
I guess I have to begin with my mom in North Carolina. She and I were talking Saturday and I said “Did you see that they’re taking ‘One Life to Live’ off the air?” which she’s always watched, and “All My Children.” She said, “What a shame. You probably don’t remember this but when you were a kid, we used to sit there and watch together. I’d be folding clothes or doing whatever and you’d be there with me.” So she’s like, “You grew up on those shows. It’s sad that they’re going away.” She said, “Is “General Hospital” going away, too?” I said no. She said, “Well, at least we can still talk about that.” I still watch “General Hospital” and so does she and so does my wife. So that’s always one of the points of conversation when I talk to my mom: can you believe Sonny (Maurice Benard) did this? Then Sunday night I turned on my laptop and I went to [Hoover’s] Facebook page, which I do every Sunday to get ready for the week, and I saw all this commentary about Hoover and the soaps and our fanbase was just really upset about it. I called my customer service manager Monday morning and she said, “Our voicemail is full and we keep getting calls. This is unbelievable.” I just decided on the drive from the airport to change up the media buys because of the response of our digital consumers. Based on the response that we were getting on our page and our hotlines, I decided that instead of doing a Hoover post, I would do a personal post on Facebook just because as the head of marketing and the steward of the brand I felt it was appropriate based on how many messages were received. We had about 7,000 followers, so I thought it was just a personal response. Next thing I know, I’m talking to you on the telephone.
Do you hope that ABC will reconsider its decision to cancel “All My Children” and “One Life to Live?”
I’m not, nor do I pretend to be, a broadcaster or to know the first thing about that. I was just going with what I thought was the right decision to respond to our customers. Little did I know that I would become the leader in this.
Why did you decide to provide a dedicated e-mail address for fans and promise to send their e-mails to ABC?
What we kept hearing was they didn’t feel that the network would listen to them. They wanted somebody to be a conduit. So we set up the e-mail address so that we could forward them to ABC and be that conduit that consumers were asking for.
How has ABC responded to you?
They were disappointed that we decided to [stop advertising]. But this is business. This isn’t a personal crusade against ABC. It was me doing what I thought was best for the Hoover brand. There’s no axe to grind on either side that I’m aware of. I certainly don’t have one with them.
How much money does Hoover spend on advertising with ABC?
We spend tens of millions of dollars a year, in general. I don’t really want to get any more specific because A) I don’t like telling my competitors what I spend and B) It wasn’t really anything to do with ABC. I wasn’t trying to punish ABC. I was just trying to run Hoover.
How many new Facebook followers has Hoover gotten because of this?
We picked up another 3 or 4,000 followers. I wish I was this good of a marketer that I could have planned it. If I could do this on a regular basis, that would be great.
It struck me as something that Don Draper would do on “Mad Men.”
This just happened to be a time when we were running [ads] on ABC and it all came together. There was no master plan. Like I said, I hatched it in the car. I wrote the Facebook post on my Blackberry driving back to the airport.
Have you found soaps to be a good advertising platform for your products?
Absolutely. Soap opera fans are awesome. They’re loyal. They know their shows. I’ve watched “General Hospital” forever. My wife and I have been married 15 years. We Tivo it and watch it every night. I feel like I’ve seen Sonny with, like, 15 different wives. If you grow up with it, it just becomes part of what you do. It’s an escape. It’s kind of like the homemaker version of NASCAR racing. NASCAR fans are ridiculously loyal to their drivers. Soap fans are ridiculously loyal to their soaps in a very good way. They’re a great vehicle for me.
One of ABC’s stated motivations for developing the programs that are replacing the soaps is that they are going to be advertiser friendly because of the opportunities for product placement. In theory, “The Chew” could do a segment on how to clean a kitchen with a Hoover. If you hadn’t heard from consumers, would you consider advertising on the new shows?
Yeah. ABC and CBS, the reason that they have the viewers that they do is that they do their jobs really well. They are really in touch with who’s watching. I put my trust in them to know what they’re doing.
What is your response to the ABC executive who told TV Guide that your actions are actually hurting the soaps because you are taking away advertising money?
[The soaps] have such loyal fanbases that make a great advertising vehicle. I don’t know what [ABC] makes money on and [doesn’t] make money on, but it’s a very attractive fanbase, so I don’t think they’ll have a problem selling the advertisements. I didn’t feel we should be affiliated with [them] at this time because of the response that we were getting.
Have you been contacted by other companies who are considering pulling their advertising?
No. We acted independently and we did what I thought was right for us. I’m sure other people are certainly watching and wondering why I did it, but I just went with my gut and what we were being told.
Several soap actors have praised your actions on Twitter. Would you like to see, say, Erica Kane vacuum with a Hoover on “All My Children” as a shout out?
My wife’s two favorite characters are Rex (John Paul Laviosier) and Gigi (Farrah Fath) on “One Life to Live.” That’s what would mean the most to her. If she’s happy, then I’m happy.
You’re now a hero to 2.5 million loyal viewers. Did you ever think, as a marketing executive you’d end up in this position?
Never in my wildest dreams did it cross my mind. When I told my wife that I was doing a personal post on Facebook about it, she was like, “Why are you doing that?” I said, “I just think it’s the right thing to do.” When I called her yesterday and said, “Oh my goodness. You wouldn’t believe all the comments. I’m getting,” all she said was, “Don’t let it go to your head. You’re not that good.”