Aging brands in need of a helping hand

Stannah Stairlifts is attempting to give its advertising a more modern feel by removing the “distress purchase” stigma associated with its products. Leagas Delaney has won the company’s £2m above-the-line account, and will create a campaign to reinvent the UK’s largest independent manufacturer of passenger lifts and vertical platforms (MW last week).

Stannah marketing manager Shelley Cole says the agency will be responsible for highlighting the positive aspects of its stairlifts and associated range. “It is about creating more of an emotional attachment to the brand and talking to people about the category in a different way,” Cole says.

The brand, which has traditionally concentrated advertising around the mobility section of newspapers’ classified pages, aims to broaden the appeal of its products among lower age brackets. “This is not just a product for very old people. We want to encourage people to purchase it earlier in life,” she says. The company took steps to revamp its image last year with the launch of two new models, the Solus and Sofia.

Stannah is among several brands that have at one time been considered second rate in the UK, but subsequently rose to prominence. A classic example is the dramatic rebirth of Skoda. Once considered a national joke, the Volkswagen-owned brand marketed itself back into favour with the launch of the “It’s a Skoda. Honest” campaign.

Change perceptions Chris Hawken, who joined Skoda as marketing director in 1998, criticised the company’s product-centric advertising at that time for focusing on “quietly targeting non-rejections rather than actually changing perceptions”. Hawken, who has since become brand communications manager at Audi, worked alongside Fallon London to develop a strategy which used self-deprecating humour to convince consumers to reassess the company as a quality car manufacturer.

Hawken stresses the importance of having a strong product to support any campaign tackling a poor brand image.

Peter Shaw, managing director of branding consultancy Brand Catalyst, agrees that for consumers to reappraise a brand there must be “truth” behind the products on offer. “A major reason Skoda could shift its image was because everyone knew it was a Volkswagen [design] and respected what was happening behind the brand,” he explains.

Such drastic shifts are also evident in the high street, with the rise to prominence of discount retailers such as Primark. For years, the Associated British Foods-owned chain was considered highly unfashionable. But more recently, it has discovered a new-found status among value boutiques, cementing its place among the UK’s four biggest womenswear retailers.

Shaw says Stannah’s tactics closely echo changes implemented by Saatchinvest-owned meal replacement product Complan. The company instructed Williams Murray Hamm last year to rebrand the product with a radical new look to counter “clinical” and “elderly” perceptions ahead of the launch of its energy drink and bar.

Mind the stairs But while he agrees from a corporate perspective that Stannah could successfully reposition as a modern and dynamic business, he warns of the dangers of alienating its core market in the process. “You can dress it up all you want, but if you can’t get up the stairs it is a distress purchase,” he concludes.

Noelle Waugh

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