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?
ebooksNow available in paperback
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
A-list actresses such as Deepika Padukone get paid a tenth of what their male counterparts make per film
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
The Black Friday Vines that will destroy your faith in humanity

Latest stories from i100
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

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Full Stack Software Developer

£35k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game