James Dyson: Why bother with advertising if you can get editorial?

So says vacuum-cleaner mogul James Dyson, who'll do a spot of housework himself if journalists will write about it. Sophie Morris listens in on a marketing masterclass

There have never been more ways to communicate a marketing message to eager consumers. But billionaire vacuum-cleaner entrepreneur James Dyson's favourite medium is, perhaps surprisingly, the humble journalist. "A journalist's opinion is very important," he explains in an interview following his address of the Marketing Society at their annual conference. "People trust editorial more than advertising."

Dyson turned to the press out of necessity when he was ready to launch his first vacuum cleaner in the UK in 1993, 10 years after he had first produced the shocking pink "G-Force" machine, which found cult status in Japan, selling for £2,000. With no marketing budget he hit the phones and persuaded journalists to devote priceless column inches to his invention. Although he is much busier today, unusually for the chief executive of a major manufacturing firm he still maintains a fair amount of personal contact with the press, mainly through madcap PR stunts which he hopes will provide a bit of unusual copy.

Only last year he was on his hands and knees at The Independent's offices vacuuming the floor. In October he unveiled a new hand-dryer to a roomful of expectant press. While they were busy gasping at the speed of the dryer and hearing how much more hygienic than a normal dryer the Dyson Airblade is, a few hired heavies burst on to the scene and started attacking the dryers, just to prove how sturdy they were. After the journalists had recovered from the shock, Dyson made himself available for one-on-one interviews.

Dyson should know a thing or two about selling stuff. A third of British households have one of his distinctive grey and yellow dust-suckers stored under the stairs. His Malaysian factory churns out four million of them a year and Dyson has recently overtaken its main competitor, Hoover, in the US market. In 2005, profits soared past the £100m mark thanks to impressive sales in Japan and as a result, the chief executive has just paid himself £31.5m, nearly 50 per cent more than last year.

He needs the media, be it editorial or advertising, but Dyson is distrustful of its methods. "Too many marketing campaigns and too many ads are misinformed," he tells a conference hall full of ad men and women. "We need truth in advertising, otherwise we'll all lose in the long term." Dyson believes the only trustworthy advertisements are comparative ones, which demonstrate to the consumer the technical difference between one product and another. He uses the example of Bosch, a rival in the laundry business when Dyson manufactured washing machines. Bosch continued to market one model of washing machine on its ability to do speedy washes, despite being asked to stop by the Advertising Standards Agency because the clothes were being washed quickly, but not well.

Disassociating himself from the dirty business of selling vacuum cleaners, which is what Dyson spends most of his address doing, might yet be another PR stunt. He believes that engineering and design skills are more important than communications, and that they are being neglected in the Britain at the moment. "I think advertising and marketing have too powerful a position in most businesses. Too many businesses give priority to the ad campaign rather than getting the product right."

For example, Dyson says experience has taught him that the look of a product doesn't matter. The only value of colour - his first vacuum cleaner was bright pink and the now defunct washing machine was purple - is that it can "shock and surprise people". He admits that employing these colours may have started off as a "slightly childish response to the beiges and browns". "The important thing for me as a designer is that people enjoy using my product and think that it works well and that it's their first choice. That's what I would like, rather than people going around saying they are Dysoning their home. But then I don't want them saying that they Hoover their home either."

Dyson isn't too much of a maverick to neglect the commercial aspect of his vacuum cleaner. In the early days, an independent creative would travel down to the Dyson factory in Malmesbury and chat about what the company wanted. It was the slogan "Say Goodbye to the Bag" which started to shift vacuum cleaners in large numbers in the early Nineties, rather than Dyson's preferred selling method of explaining the principle of cyclonic separation, on which his bagless machines work, to potential customers. It can't have hurt, back then, to have close friends like Sir Terence Conran - who put the vacuum cleaner in his Design Museum - and Paul Smith - who sold 300 of them from his shop floor before Dyson had a UK distributor - championing his invention.

But Dyson's own celebrity is the most important factor when it comes to selling. Man and brand are inextricably linked. He says now that his media-friendly image as figurehead of the company came about by chance: "When I was completely unknown the big retailers wouldn't take me because they said I wasn't a brand. I realised that my weakness was probably my strength. That I was an individual who had invented something which I was producing through my company, and that people might quite like buying off someone who was doing it all themselves, rather than an anonymous international company."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Social Media Director (Global) - London Bridge/Southwark

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Social Media Director (Gl...

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

Business Intelligence Program Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: BI Project / Program Manager BI Project...

Radian6/Social Media/Digital Analyst

£250 - £300 per day: Progressive Recruitment: LEAD DIGITAL ANALYST - CONTRACT ...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil