After experiencing years of success in Europe, the highpriced, British-made Dyson vacuum began appearing in the United States in 2002 during a time of recession and a waning U.S. vacuum industry. Nevertheless James Dyson—the vacuum’s creator and Dyson Ltd.’s president and spokesman—stood resolute that his filterless, bagless vacuum would succeed stateside. Awarded Dyson’s advertising budget in 2002, the ad agency Fallon Worldwide launched the ‘‘Doesn’t Lose Suction’’ campaign to tote Dyson’s superior technology in an industry that, according to Dyson, needed improvement.
With a $14.4 million budget, Fallon released ‘‘Doesn’t Lose Suction’’ across television and print during the second week of October 2003. James Dyson appeared in some 30-second television spots while only providing the voice-overs for others. In the first spot James Dyson soberly explained the shortcomings of traditional vacuums, specifically, the clogging of their filters and bags. He then admitted to spending 14 years developing a vacuum that used centrifuge technology to spin the dirt out of air at 100,000 times the force of gravity. Dyson vacuums were easy to empty, never clogged, and boasted more suction power than traditional vacuums. The spot ended with a black-background shot of the new Dyson vacuum.
Soon after the campaign’s release Dyson vaulted past its competitors and went from a zero percent market share to being America’s top-selling vacuum in 2005. The success of Dyson vacuums, which retailed between $399 and $550, actually increased the entire vacuum industry’s price tags, which had previously averaged $95 to $125. ‘‘Our goal is to completely change the way vacuums are marketed in the U.S.,’’ Doug Kellam, president of Dyson, Chicago (the company’s U.S. headquarters), told Advertising Age. Dyson’s marketing involved blatantly stating its technical advantages over the competition and then unflinchingly attaching an exorbitant price tag. Besides increasing Dyson’s sales the campaign also snagged a silver EFFIE advertising award in 2005.
In 1970, while studying at the Royal College of Art, the inventor and designer James Dyson released his first creation, the Sea Truck. His subsequent inventions included a wheelbarrow and a boat ramp that used inflatable balls instead of wheels. He started working on a bagless vacuum cleaner in 1978. Before Dyson decided to market the revolutionary vacuum himself, he approached the Hoover Company in the 1980s with his bagless, filterless vacuum idea. ‘‘Hoover wouldn’t give it the time of day. They said: ‘Bags are best. Bags will always be best.’ Then they copied it,’’ the inventor said in The Story of Dyson, a booklet included with every Dyson vacuum. James Dyson spent 14 years perfecting his vacuum. It used centrifugal force to keep dirt spinning along the inner cylinder’s insides while the suction chamber remained unobstructed. The effect was similar to that of a tornado. The first Dyson model, the Dyson Cyclone, was released in the United Kingdom in 1993. The company put almost all profit back into development over the next 12 years, expanding Dyson’s team from 3 scientists to 350. In an interview with Advertising Age, Dyson’s global marketing director, Clare Mullin, reiterated the company’s commitment to development, saying, ‘‘We’re an engineering-led company, not a marketing-led company.’’ Most of Dyson’s European success was attributed to word of mouth. Many analysts believed Dyson vacuums would flop in America. When the product arrived in 2002, the United States was in a recession, and analysts doubted that consumers would be able to justify spending $429.99 on a vacuum. James Dyson disagreed. Speaking to the Times of London, he explained, ‘‘Vacuum cleaners are quite recession-proof because people retrench back into the home. If you look back historically, the sales don’t drop at the time of recession.’’ As evidence he mentioned Dyson’s strong sales during the United Kingdom’s recession in 1993.
According to the Times of London, the company decided to use Fallon as its ad agency because, in the words of James Dyson, ‘‘We liked the style, they are educational.’’ Believing that Americans would be drawn to Dyson’s technology, Fallon crafted Dyson spots to be instructive. Dyson further explained, ‘‘Our ads are never funny, they are almost boring. I think vacuuming is serious and I don’t think it’s something to joke about.’’ By mid-2005 Dyson and Fallon, citing strategic differences, had discontinued their relationship.
‘‘Doesn’t Lose Suction’’ targeted 30- to 40-year-olds along with a subgroup of allergy sufferers and pet owners. With the latter in mind, Dyson promoted its vacuums at dog and cat shows. One of the product’s technological advantages over bag or filter vacuums was its ability to collect fine dust and ash without the particles affecting vacuum suction. ‘‘Suction to consumers is very important, and Dyson as a marketer claimed something that resonated with consumers,’’ Bill McLaughlin, executive editor at HomeWorld Business Magazine, told Advertising Age. Dyson had reportedly spent very little on advertising in Europe, where raves about the vacuum’s advantages were spread by word of mouth. But the company took a different approach to America because, as the Times of London stated, ‘‘the US is too big a place to rely on conversations over the garden fence.’’ At the end of 2003 Dyson aired television spots across major American network and cable channels. ‘‘It’s mad for us not to have been here. If we are just half as successful as we have been in Britain, we’ll be selling 3.5 million vacuum cleaners,’’ James Dyson told the Times of London. Before Americans could even buy the vacuum, skeptics claimed that Dyson’s price tag would deter consumers. ‘‘Dyson is a leading brand in Europe at those high prices, but the American consumer’s mentality is price, price, price,’’ Gerry Beatty, a senior editor at Home Furnishings News, told Advertising Age. Dyson vacuums arrived first in American specialty stores and then in Target stores. As the brand’s popularity blossomed, its vacuums were sold by Best Buy, Home Depot, and Linens ‘N Things. Reflecting upon Dyson’s success, Norman Axelrod, chairman and CEO of Linens ‘N Things, explained to Advertising Age, ‘‘[The Dyson vacuum] becomes our best seller simply because there is something new and something exciting about it, so there is not a resistance to price points.’’
When Dyson vacuums first appeared in America in 2002, the Hoover brand, owned by the Maytag Corporation, was leading the American vacuum industry with a 25 percent market share. After an incredible twoyear spurt, Dyson knocked Hoover down to a 16 percent market share and claimed 21 percent. Hoover tried scrambling back by releasing vacuums outfitted with the Fusion Cyclonic Filtration System, a technology modeled after Dyson’s vacuums. By 2005 Hoover was spending $47 million on advertising with its new, Dyson-like tagline, ‘‘No Loss of Suction.’’ Hoover also released a vacuum model, called WindTunnel, that boasted 56 percent more suction than Dyson. The claim appeared in Hoover’s television spots, which were created by Element 79 Partners.
The Louisiana-based Oreck Corporation, manufacturer of upright and canister vacuums, took Dyson to court in 2005 after claiming Dyson’s ‘‘Doesn’t Lose Suction’’ tagline was ‘‘literally false.’’ Dyson countersued with a similar accusation about Oreck’s tagline ‘‘Maintains Suction Power.’’ Oreck’s main advertising push used infomercials and direct mailers, but the company occasionally aired television spots starring David Oreck, the company’s founder and spokesperson, on cable and broadcast TV. One 30-second spot in 2005 showed him outfitted as a magician, asking, ‘‘Want to make your pet hair magically disappear?’’ The spot then cut to David Oreck promising that an Oreck vacuum could ‘‘clean every rug in your home,’’ while his toupee fluttered from vacuum suction. The spot ended with an owl clinging to the end of his Oreck XL broom. Advertising Age reported that David Oreck venomously attributed Dyson’s success to the ‘‘superior advertising of an inferior machine.’’
‘‘Doesn’t Lose Suction’’ spots first aired in October 2003 on network and cable channels such as A&E, Lifetime, HGTV, and TLC. To reach the company’s 30- to 40-year-old target market, print ads appeared in conscientious magazines such as Metropolitan Home, Parenting, and O: The Oprah Magazine. Print ads, like the television spots, dwelled on product innovation. One ad read, ‘‘While everyone else was fiddling with headlights or stiffer bristles, someone went and reinvented the whole machine.’’
Initial television spots for the campaign featured either James Dyson or his voice-over convincingly explaining his vacuum’s advantages. The campaign’s second spot started with the camera panning across sad-looking vacuums from the competition. James Dyson’s steady British voice began, ‘‘Ever since the vacuum cleaner was invented, it’s had a basic design flaw. Bags, filters: they all clog with dust and then lose suction. The technology simply doesn’t work.’’ The camera then stopped on Dyson standing, literally, behind his product. He continued, ‘‘So I spent 14 years developing one that does. The Dyson Cyclones create 100,000 times the force of gravity to spin the dirt out of the air. So nothing gets clogged—ever.’’
The ‘‘Doesn’t Lose Suction’’ campaign employed promotions outside traditional vacuum-industry mediums. Dyson’s DC11 canister vacuum appeared in a window display at the upscale department store Barney’s New York. As part of Fallon’s strategy to target pet owners, Dyson vacuums were given away in competitors’ goody bags at the Westminster Dog Show. Similar to what Dyson’s brand had experienced in Europe, people in the United States were talking about their Dyson vacuums. Mullin told Advertising Age that all economic groups were ‘‘buying it literally because of the performance of the vacuum cleaner.’’ The clear shell and different shape of the Dyson vacuum warranted its exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Science Museum in London, and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. In developing the campaign Fallon was challenged to deviate outside traditional vacuum advertising, which included direct mailers and huckster-style television spots. ‘‘We knew from the beginning what we didn’t want,’’ Michael Hart, copywriter and group creative director at Fallon, told Brandweek. ‘‘No dancing moms vacuuming. No long-haired cats shedding in the background. No bowling balls being sucked up. Just the vacuum, the man who invented it and why it’s better.’’ Dyson increased measured media spending from $755,200 in 2002 to $14.4 million by 2003. In 2004 Dyson continued increasing its advertising budget, bringing the sum to $16.1 million in the first seven months. During the ‘‘Doesn’t Lose Suction’’ campaign Dyson released new models, such as the DC15, a machine that employed an inflatable ball for a more agile wheelbase. James Dyson continued providing the voice-overs for the DC15 spots. ‘‘James does a very good job of being himself on camera,’’ Mike Gibbs, group creative director at Fallon, told Advertising Age.
Defying industry analysts, excelling from zero U.S. market share to U.S. market leader in three years, and revolutionizing one of the world’s most popular appliances, Dyson underwent an incredible amount of growth during its ‘‘Doesn’t Lose Suction’’ campaign. ‘‘They have a radically different thing going . . . It’s a great new brand,’’ David Lubars, president and executive creative director at Fallon, told Adweek. The campaign also earned a silver EFFIE award in the Household Furnishings and Appliances category in 2005.
Many critics praised the campaign for its frank, confident delivery, which portrayed James Dyson as a man so moved by his own invention that he himself believed Americans would be compelled to buy it after hearing his explanation. The approach, according to Dyson, not only worked but also prodded the entire vacuum industry to improve hardware and advertising. David Oreck, the founder of Dyson’s fierce competitor Oreck, agreed with this assessment, telling Advertising Age that Dyson’s strategy of focusing on its vacuums’ technology instead of on price points had helped America’s vacuum industry to undergo a ‘‘constructive’’ change.