Magazine article Marketing

Orange Agents

Magazine article Marketing

Orange Agents

Article excerpt

Orange agents

You may not have realised it, but last Thursday was "O Day". This has nothing to do with the liberation of Kuwait and everything to do with reinventing one of the most successful new products of the 80s. Thursday March 14 was Orange Day and the product is Vax - the vacuum cleaner which washes, cleans and sucks up spills.

The first inkling the public got of this historic event was an uncharacteristically cryptic poster campaign. Throughout the country 2650 poster sites screamed "Improve your environment. Go Orange". For a company liek Vax which traditionally relies on no frills product demo advertising this was a major departure. No product, no demo, no brand. The Billy Graham of the floor care market?

Not a chance. O Day itself explained with the first in a series of product demo TV spots revealing the squat, industrial-orange coloured vacuum cleaner behind the hype. Vax has thrown out its old chestnut of a slogan "Vax, Britain's best selling vacuum cleaner, washes," and with its new ad agency WCRS locked onto the more intangible emotional appeal of the colour orange.

The cleaner has been orange since it was launched by the company's founder and chairman Alan Brazier in 1977. It's story is one of the power of product innovation - and its pitfills. For a short time Brazier's three-in-one industrial quality vacuum cleaner had all his competitors in a tizz - their me-too attempts landing them in court.

But now, me-too products are coming on stream, and despite promises of new innovations to come, Vax has been placed on the defensive. Enter the PR and admen, who had decided to make a big splash of that awful orange.

The colour was chosen deliberately to match the domestic product with the Teutonic efficiency of industrial carpet cleaners.

"The orange is about branding. This is something we can't avoid and shouldn't be ashamed about. This is Vax's personality," says Vax's Karen Heeley.

Vax took off when it began advertising on TV in 1985. Between 1987 and 1989 the three-in-one market expanded by 112% to 100m [pound]. By contrast, the upright sector grew by only 7.6% while the cylinder sector slumped 19% in value. Heady days indeed for a one product company that was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1984. Since 1989 things have changed. Most vacuum cleaner sales are for replacements - and they have been particularly hard hit by the recession a households decide to struggle on with their noisy old vacuum cleaners. Sales in 1990 were down 6.5% on the previous year and by all accounts this year is going to be even worse.

By all accounts that is, except Vax's own. They contend that their sales have stood up far better than the market as a whole even though 1990 marked the first ever year on year decline in the three-in-one sector from 717,000 units to 689,900 units. Vax maintains the value share has remained steady at around 26% of the total 280m [pound] floorcare market. If that's the case, why all the ballyhoo about "O Day"?

"These has been some sales decline mainly because people still see three-in-one machines as an additional specialist purchase on top of the ordinary vacuum cleaner," says Helley. "This campaign will bring Vax forward as a replacement purchase in its own right. …

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