Agency: BETC Euro RSCG
As optimism begins to return to the housing market - in February the authoritative Halifax index found the proportion of home-buyers making their first purchase had risen for the second successive month - adspend across the furniture and DIY sectors is likely to increase (see below).
This year, a new variant of the species of home improvement marketing is emerging: it encompasses a shift from emphasising price to a more emotionally led form of brand-building.
DIY brands such as Dulux have long played on these emotional benefits. The paint brand's marketing director, Letty Edwards (see below), says that for the past 15 years, Dulux marketing has 'emotionally focused on the benefits of decorating to inspire people to enter the category'.
'We know that 77% of consumers say they feel better when they decorate,' she adds. '[Our marketing] is about the emotional impact that it has on consumers, the home, and their relationship with the home.'
B&Q has taken a hybrid approach with its campaign, launched this week. 'We are not moving away from price messaging completely,' says the retailer's marketing director, Katherine Paterson. 'One of the key messages is we want to help people improve their homes - that's our main brand ad. However, supporting that we will have value examples - incredibly strong offers across the store - that we will deliver over Easter.'
Perhaps the most surprising converts to emotion-led ads are furniture chains. These retailers have hitherto succeeded in etching the sight of D-list celebrities on leather sofas promoting seemingly never-ending sales firmly into the British psyche.
Sofa specialist DFS, one of the greatest proponents of this form of functional, price-led marketing, is among several furniture retailers to pursue more emotive campaigns. The business, owned by private-equity firm Advent, hired ad agency Krow to make more of its 42-year, British heritage.
The resulting ads, which debuted last month, show children playing on sofas and end with the line 'Making everyday more comfortable', using an updated, heart-shaped logo. According to Andrew Trofimowicz, commercial director at DFS, the brand aims to make a 'more emotional connection' while continuing to offer 'unbelievable value' to consumers.
'[This strategy] makes business sense. The most appealing brands in any sector are the ones that sell more than their less-appealing competitors,' says Trofimowicz. 'Traditionally, brand-building in this sector has been over-reliant on price and promotion. We believe there is a better, more rounded way of doing things that will create significant commercial advantage for those who do it brilliantly. That's what we will do.'
In a similar vein, last year, bedroom-furniture retailer Dreams unveiled a 'cuddlier' ad campaign, by RKCR/Y&R, in which people switch off their lights to go to sleep, accompanied by the honeyed tones of jazz singer Stacey Kent performing Hushabye Mountain.
Rival furniture chain Harveys has also tried to soften its marketing approach, with a mobile app that lets users 'test-drive' sofas in their own homes.
Several drivers are propelling this shift, not least the issue of brand trust. Mintel research last year found that more than 40% of consumers expressed trust in retailers such as John Lewis and IKEA, while price-focused brands such as DFS, Harveys, Dreams and SCS were trusted by fewer than 20%.
Then there is the high-profile success of John Lewis' recent ads, which, some argue, has forced a rethink across the retail sector.
Matt Prentis, associate director for strategy at ad agency Starcom MediaVest, which created the Harveys app, says the retailer has, in the past, put function first.
'Harveys has been guilty of pushing 10 products it knew would drive footfall into stores,' says Prentis. 'Our research suggested this approach was quite masculine, when it needed to be more relevant to the decision-makers - generally women,' he adds. 'It was all about a short-term view, and there is a need to adopt a more long-term approach to attract a younger, female audience.'
That female factor is the third driver behind the growing presence of sentiment in home-enhancement marketing. 'The market used to be male-dominated, but now more women want to do the jobs themselves,' says Paterson. 'It is still DIY, but broader. Some 70% of visitors to the "You can do it" centres in our stores are women.'
Not all observers are convinced that furniture retailers can transform brand perceptions through emotive advertising alone, however. Mike Phillipson, managing director of agency Big Communications and a former marketer at First Direct, believes there is a danger that DFS has launched its latest ad campaign without fully eradicating the aggressive sales ethos created by former owner Lord Kirkham.
'DFS needs to set out its new stall, rather than jumping to a more emotive brand platform,' says Phillipson, who worked with DFS for several years while at agency PWLC.
'To succeed at this "brand affection" strategy, the likes of DFS need to add real relevance to consumers' lives - an inside-out proposition and set of values that resonate strongly with its customers,' he adds.
Brand-building may be flavour of the month across the furniture and home-improvement sector, but the temptation to revert to a blunt discounting strategy will be hard to resist if results do not come quickly.
Consumers may not have seen the last of those infamous sofa sales yet.
Additional research by Rachel Barnes, Matt Chapman and Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
17 years - Total average length of time Britons spend sitting on the sofa during their lives
30 hours - Average amount of time per week spent on sofas on weeknights
19 hours - Average amount of time at the weekend
Source: www.alljoinon.com in 2008
On price messaging 'We've never done price-led advertising. The ads haven't been focused on a functional role in 15 years, (but rather) on the benefits of decorating. From "You find the colour we'll match it" in the early 2000s to "We'll find the colours that go" from 2005 (and) the current campaign about inspiring people to undertake a decorating job, our advertising is emotionally led.'
On promoting value 'It's not about price, it's about value - (with Dulux) you can transform a room for £50 quite easily. The challenge is how we reframe the category to get consumers to undertake a job in a tough economic climate. It's about convincing consumers that decorating is relatively cheap versus going on holiday.'
On price messaging 'We just launched our latest "Wonderfulisation" ad. As we do with each new version of the campaign, we start by showing the idea and range of rooms. Our next ads will build on this with specific offers and prices. We use different ads at different times to show varying parts of the offer. We also continue to highlight prices and deals via fliers and point-of-sale.'
On evolving the brand 'We have changed our brand look and feel. We've refreshed the Homebase brand, which we feel will have more appeal to our home-enhancement customer, and this will be gradually rolled out across our communications, starting with our new ad. The new identity is part of our wider focus to really show the breadth of our range, while helping people create personalised looks.'
On price messaging 'We are not moving away from it completely. One of the key messages is that we want to help you improve your home, and our main brand ad shows examples of our customers achieving this. However, supporting that we will have value examples that we will deliver over Easter.'
On evolving the message '[Our new] campaign recognises the moment of achievement our customers feel when they have personally completed a home-improvement project and we are calling it the "I did it" moment. It's just a step on from what we have been communicating, and it's like holding a mirror up to customers and saying: "You did this with our help and we can help more of you do this."'
NB Data does not include TV sponsorship
Source: AdDynamix/Starcom MediaVest Group
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk