A view from Dave Trott: How to build a brand without advertising
A view from Dave Trott

How to build a brand without advertising

Boris Johnson spent £2.7m on his new “White House-style” press briefing room.

The lectern was on a Conservative-blue stage, behind it was a Conservative-blue backdrop, behind him were four large Union Jack flags.

It was unveiled to the public with an impressive wide-angle photograph.

But it wasn’t the £2.7m worth of interior design that everyone focused on.

Halfway down, on the far right, was the one tiny thing his publicity experts had missed.

Someone had left a Henry hoover almost tucked out of sight.

It wasn’t the £2.7m showcase that caught everyone’s eye, it was the cheeky red face and googly eyes.

Immediately newspapers ran headlines like: “Is There a Leadership Vacuum?”

TV host Lorraine Kelly said: “Can’t we have Henry running the country?”

The little character immediately got his own Twitter account: @pressofficehenrythehoover.

The caption said: “Keeping the press briefing room clean and honest.”

Below that, another caption said: “Just the vacs.”

So the question is, why would a simple vacuum cleaner attract more attention than a multimillion-pound government vanity project?

Since 1981, 10 million Henry hoovers have been bought.

The company employs 1,000 people making 4,500 of them a day.

Cardiff University advertised a Henry hoover picnic, and 37,000 people registered to show up with their little vacuum cleaners.

Surely such a massively successful brand must be the result of lots of thorough research, marketing, planning and a huge spend on advertising.

Well, no, actually – none of those had anything to do with it.

The owner of the company is Chris Duncan, he originally made industrial vacuum cleaners.

He made this particular prototype from an oil drum and a washing-up bowl.

He first exhibited it at a trade show in Lisbon, where it looked just like all the other cleaners.

So to make it stand out, he drew a smile, making the hose inlet look like a nose, with two eyes just above it.

The effect was like a friendly cartoon baby elephant, with the hose as a trunk.

The next day everyone was pointing at his cleaner rather than the competition.

So he did it again, at a trade show in Bahrain, and the children’s hospital nearby asked if they could buy one.

Spotting an opportunity, Duncan had his staff design it properly and add the name Henry.

It caught on with professional cleaners, and people began to see it in schools and on building sites.

Customers began asking the large retailers if they could buy it, so the retailers contacted Duncan asking if they could sell it.

And a massive brand was built without any advertising, none of the cumbersome paraphernalia the marketing industry wants everyone to believe is essential.

No research, no planners, no strategists, no marketing, no creative.

Because Duncan just saw what the public wanted, and the public wanted fun.

In 2013, Duncan went to Buckingham Palace to get an MBE.

An official in uniform said to Duncan’s wife: “What does your husband do?”

She said: “He makes Henry hoover vacuum cleaners.”

The official said: “Normally my wife’s not interested in which toffs I’ve met. But when I get home and tell her I’ve met Mr Henry the hoover, she’s going to be livid she wasn’t here.”

In The Spectator, Joanna Rossiter wrote: “Henry is an emblem of our refusal to take ourselves too seriously.”

If we can learn from Henry and get advertising back in its box, we can learn to do it properly.

Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three