Plumber Invests Heavily in Creating a Distinct Brand

Seattle’s Bob Oates uses a number of different methods from social media to a unique company mascot to make sure he’s highly visible to potential customers

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As Bob Oates explains his drain cleaning and plumbing firm’s integrated marketing campaign, it’s hard to determine what’s more impressive: the number of different platforms and venues he uses or the fact that the high-school dropout is a self-taught marketer.

But one thing is certain. In an age where brand identity is critical, Bob Oates Sewer Rooter in Seattle stands out in the crowd. Oates’ branding initiatives include:

  • A popular mascot called Poopy the Plunger.
  • Sparkling clean, bright-red service trucks instead of more common white vehicles.
  • A social media presence on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  • Billboards and municipal bus signage.
  • Uniformed employees.

No matter what the medium, Oates uses marketing as the ultimate competitive differentiator.

The centerpiece of the marketing efforts is Poopy, a skinny, goofy-looking mascot that appears on all the company’s service vehicles, as well as its website and any collateral marketing pieces, invoices and the like. Oates dreamed up the character, based on what he thought the character Gilligan, from the 1960s television show Gilligan’s Island, would look like if he was reincarnated as a plunger. (It was one of Oates’ favorite shows while growing up.)

“I used to have an alligator as my mascot when I owned Alligator Sewer,” Oates says, referring to another company he once ran in Seattle. “People loved it. Mascots are good because pictures stick in people’s minds. We get service calls all the time from people who see our trucks. It separates me from the competition.”

In fact, the character is so popular that Oates had T-shirts printed in response to customer requests.

“We get calls from people around the country who ask for T-shirts,” he says. “We keep about 10 dozen of them in stock in all sizes, just in case customers ask for one.”

Poopy even factors into the company’s social media efforts. At the moment, for example, the company is randomly placing a 6-foot-tall cardboard cutout of Poopy at various intersections, then running a contest on Facebook to see who can find it. (Prizes vary from month to month and are usually gadgets related to plumbing.)

The internet and social media efforts generate a significant amount of annual revenue. To make sure he gets it right, Oates followed one of his tenets for success and hired someone smarter than him, in this case, Tashia Ortiz, a social media expert.

“She’s rockin’ it for us,” Oates says.

Oates concedes that when customers have a problem, they don’t look for a bus advertisement or a billboard, or wait for one of the company’s trucks to drive by to find out how to contact his company.

“But when people have an emergency and they do go online to find a drain cleaner, my name pops out somewhere on that first page and a bell rings. They make the connection, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the company whose trucks I see around town.’”


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