Monday, December 31, 2001

NEW ORLEANS - If what Arnold Palmer did for the popularity of golf has legs beyond the links, the home medical equipment industry is about to become the beneficiary of a whole new level of recognition.

At Medtrade, one of golf's most legendary figures, the man who brought legions to the game throughout the Fifties and Sixties as "foot soldiers" in Arnie's Army, kicked off his tenure as Invacare's worldwide spokesperson.

Invacare plans to start filming its first TV spot with Palmer in January. By mid-late February, Invacare will make the commercial available to providers for airing on local television stations.

Tapping the appeal of celebrities as a way to advance products sales is not unknown in the HME industry. At Medtrade 2000, former "Leave it to Beaver" star, Jerry Mathers made an appearance on behalf of a company promoting asthma care. This year, a former NFL quarterback was supposed to attend the show to plug healthy feet. Like other celebrities who've been featured in HME advertisements in the past, they were representing the medical necessity of products. Palmer is doing something else.

"This is societal. This is lifestyle," said Lou Slangen, Invacare's senior vice president of sales and marketing. "This is the first time that we as an industry will be in front of the general public in a significant way. He'll carry not just Invacare, but the whole industry."

In the field, everyone from consultants to providers say the selection of Palmer as Invacare's spokesperson is an adroit move. And like Slangen, they're saying the entire industry benefits.

"Where we've been perceived as niche players in the past, (Palmer) takes us mainstream," said Jack Evans, president of Global Media marketing in Malibu, Calif.

The company's research found that Palmer's "Q" Rating, an index that measurers an endorser's recognition, likability and credibility, cut across demographic lines from seniors through caregivers to younger people. HME