Superbrands case studies: Vespa

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume VI', July 2004. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by an independent judging panel.

Case study provided by Superbrands.

Piaggio, creator and manufacturer of the Vespa, first arrived in the UK in 1992 when the modern British scooter market was in its infancy. Piaggio sales that year amounted to just 800 units. However, within five years the business saw annual sales reach 4,850 and by the end of 2003 this figure had increased by more than 350% to well over 22,000.

This enormous growth can be attributed to Piaggio choosing a strategic moment to enter the market, both in terms of climate and development, and also to Piaggio's fresh approach to marketing the product and, in particular, the Vespa brand.

Piaggio identified an important trend: the changing needs of commuters. This was being driven not only by an increase in urban congestion, but also by the high costs and increasing unreliability of public transport. People were beginning to demand independence and reliability at a time when car travel was becoming more impractical due to congestion lack of parking and the expense of owning a car.

By tapping into these functional needs, whilst recognising that consumers (and in particular, car drivers) would not want to forgo comfort and style, Piaggio spearheaded the evolution of the scooter, turning it into a viable means of commuting. Over the last decade the market has grown sharply, with Piaggio leading the category. Unrivalled as the scooter market leader, Piaggio's market share has grown consistently year-onyear, currently standing at 34% in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

With the introduction of the congestion charge in London in 2003, car drivers were again prompted to find alternative modes of transport.

For any company, creating a developing cult object is like a dream come true, and the Vespa is a phenomenon that many other manufacturers have attempted to emulate, with little success. Vespa has been an iconic symbol since its conception in 1946 and has made its mark as one of the signs of our times.

With over sixteen million units manufactured to date, it is a familiar sight in every corner of the globe and is part and parcel of the urban landscape. The core of Vespa's offering is not just a basic, practical item, but a quality lifestyle choice.

Not only is the Vespa one of the world's most enduring symbols of cool, but it has reached this status from humble beginnings. The fact that its appeal has withstood the changing fads and fashions of nearly 60 years adds weight to its iconic stature.

Today Vespa stands as an acknowledged symbol of style in harmony with tradition unlike any other scooter. Vespa is not, however, just a commercial phenomenon but has had a significant social impact as well. No other scooter has ever come close to the Vespa in terms of image, status or appreciation.

The legend of Vespa was born in 1946 from Enrico Piaggio's vision to meet post-war Italy's urgent need for modern affordable transport. Corradino D'Ascanio, an aeronautical engineer who designed and constructed the first modern helicopter, was given the job of designing a simple, robust vehicle which could be driven by both men and women, would not dirty its rider's clothes, and which could also carry a passenger. The scooter was designed to be affordable and functional - a vehicle for the masses which would get Italy moving again after World War II.

Ironically, the very design features which made it so practical - the 'step-through' seating position, the simple mechanics, the metal body - are now fundamental to its personality, and are the foundations upon which the scooter industry has been built.

The Vespa first gained worldwide recognition when Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck-themselves icons of the screen - weaved through the streets of Rome on a Vespa in 'Roman Holiday' in 1953. After years of austerity, the 1950s saw a new exuberance start to emerge, and the sight of two young lovers astride a Vespa captured the imagination of millions.

When the Vespa was adopted by the Mods some years later, the thrill had a harder edge, a hint of danger and rebellion. Since then, both the classic romance of Roman Holiday and the defiant non-conformity of Mod culture have combined with the innate Italian-ness of the Vespa to create the stylish image to which so many aspire.

There have been 138 models and versions of the Vespa, each with the distinctive look and feel that make them inimitably Vespa. The 125cc of 1948, the legendary 150 GS of 1955 and 1968 are just some of the models that have distinguished the technical and stylistic evolution of the Vespa brand.

There are now three Vespa models on the market: the original Vespa PX, the automatic Vespa ET and, most recently launched, the biggest and fastest Vespa ever produced - the Granturismo. The one thing they all have in common is that from just a glance you can tell that they are all Vespas.

Born in 1977, the Vespa PX is the original vintage and is still produced to the same technical specifications today as it was over 25 years ago. In that time, it has sold over two million units and is a favourite among those with a sense of nostalgia but also with the younger market. In fact the average age bracket of PX customers in Europe is 18-34 with a significant number (over 30% aged between 18-24.

Quite remarkable since this latter group weren't born when the PX was launched. The PX's appeal lies in its manual gears, traditional bodywork and classic styling.

The ET series was launched in 1996, marking the 50th anniversary of the Vespa. An updated, automatic version of the PX, with more rounded lines and a sleeker profile, the ET range encompasses the ET2 50cc, and the ET4 (the first Vespa with a four-stroke engine) in both 50cc and 125cc displacements.

All variations have automatic 'twist and go' transmission making them easy to ride. The ET is especially popular with women throughout Europe (over 30% of all buyers) because of its curvaceous body, small size and manoeuvrability; it is ideal for those who want a scooter that is easy to handle but which also makes a style statement.

Launched in 2003, the Vespa Granturismo is the newest member of the Vespa family, and takes its place alongside the traditional PX and modern ET. It is available in 125cc and 200cc displacements, with automatic transmission on both models. The Vespa Granturismo is the most powerful and most technologically advanced Vespa that Piaggio has ever produced.

Recent Developments
The introduction of the Granturismo widens the scope of the range by providing a top of the range vehicle bearing the Vespa name. This is the first time since Piaggio stopped producing the Primavera model in 1983 that there have been three distinct Vespa ranges.

The Vespa Granturismo creates a new product type in the market, filling the gap between maxiscooters and traditional scooters, and meeting today's high expectation of performance and comfort whilst still representing a specific lifestyle choice.

The new Vespa boutique range of clothing and accessories was introduced in 2003 enabling everyone to buy into the Vespa brand. In keeping with the machines themselves, everything which bears the logo is of the same high quality, with a style combining practicality and design.

Piaggio has relied heavily on PR to promote Vespa as the ultimate stylish urban accessory. By associating Vespa with celebrities and fashion, as well as targeting style press rather than just focusing on product placement in the motoring pages and specialist magazines, Vespa has become truly aspirational and synonymous with fashion and style.

Over the last few years, Vespa has worked with some of the world's most well-known fashion designers who have all given their time to design one-off customised scooters. Dolce & Gabbana, Julien Macdonald (for Givenchy), Vivienne Westwood, Donna Karan, Jimmy Choo and Joseph, to name a few, have all designed and created their own Vespa.

Not only does Vespa now have a high profile in the fashion industry, but it also has a strong celebrity following. In 2001,Vespa won a PR Week award for 'Best Promotional Activity' for its Art Vespa project. Eight British celebrities including David Bailey, Simon Le Bon and Jasper Conran gave their own look to the classic Vespa. The scooters were brought to life and exhibited at Sotheby's for two weeks prior to being auctioned for charity.

Celebrity endorsement has also played a key role in Vespa's aspirational positioning, with stars such as Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Laura Bailey, Jonathan Ross and Jemma Kidd constantly being snapped out and about in London on their Vespas.

Brand Values
From its conception in 1946 to the present day, the Vespa has always been more than a scooter it is a classic style icon.

The Vespa is the reflection of a specific personality and lifestyle which consumers buy into - adventure, style and simplicity - and evokes notions of romance seen in 'Roman Holiday' and 'La Dolce Vita'.

Things you didn't know about
The first Vespa model was a 98cc scooter.
The Vespa was given its name after Piaggio's president remarked upon the vehicle's similarity to the shape of a wasp (Vespa means wasp in Italian).
By the end of 1949, 35,000 Vespa scooters had been produced - rising to two million by 1960, and sixteen million by 1996.

(c) 2004 Superbrands Ltd