Title: Popular marketing policy
Pages: 46 - 51
Author: Jose Manser
Text: Popular marketing policy
When Prisunic department stores set out to raise the design standard of their goods some 10 years ago, they were aware that packaging and publicity could do much to promote the right image. The high standard of marketing material achieved in their studio leaves Press and public in no doubt that Prisunic has good things to sell.
It is impossible to spend any time in a French town and not, at some point be sucked into the local branch of Prisunic. Practically any consumer needs which might arise can be satisfied there - from clothing to car accessories, beach bags to furniture. From a comparatively small start in 1931, Prisunic now has 360 shops, a number which is constantly increasing, and its marketing policies are unlike any that exist in this country.
Offering an enormous variety of goods, which dissociates it from specialists like Marks & Spencer, and Sainsbury's, it can only be compared with Woolworth's. But such comparison is at once invalidated by the fact that Prisunic has a coherent, deliberate and commercially successful design policy, whereas Woolworth's appears to have none.
Prisunic's success should scotch for all time that stomach-stabbing maxim that good design does not pay when it is for a mass market. Prisunic, with a turnover of £75 million and customers from every income bracket and age group, has proved that it does pay very handsomely, and the throngs of foreigners who rake feverishly through the goods on display give international weight to the scotching.
One thing which should be admitted immediately, and which makes the impact of the goods slow to register, is that the stores themselves range from mediocre to bad. They are often old, of indifferent design when new, and generally overcrowded. Display tends to be untidy (except in the food section, where no French retailer has ever been known to put a foot wrong) and erratically mounted. But Prisunic is aware of this, and it is something they are trying to correct. They blame, to an extent, the huge and frequently changing range of goods which they stock, and also the difficulty of keeping display control over so many shops in a country the size of France.
The folder of high-quality sepia-printed photographs, below, was sent to the French Press this autumn announcing Prisunic's range of winter clothes. Publicity material is carefully and imaginatively directed to make news stories. Typical of Prisunic's simple but compelling consumer graphics is their Easter poster, bottom.
Swing tags for Florine clothes, below, have a bulls-eye directness of appeal and provide necessary information in simple type. Press material is more sophisticated than the sophisticated than graphics and packaging used in the stores. the Press show invitation, centre, has a long, blank envelope with a window, from which the slotted-in information sheet can be pulled out square by square. The firm's posters, bottom, are of a uniform high standard in paper, reproduction, and photography, but as they are selling the different brand names special to Prisunic, different approaches to photography and graphics are imaginatively used.inatively used.
Prisunic graphics (packaging, display posters, publicity handouts, etc) are superb, and their goods are almost all well designed. This has been a deliberate policy of the firm since about 10 years ago, when they decided that their established reputation for good quality at low prices was not quite enough to fend off competition from such growing firms as Inno and Monoprix: that competent styling too must be pushed into the front line.
At the same time, they began to have their own exclusive ranges; a manufacturer would make a line especially for them, which would then tee marketed under their own brand name. Over the years this has become a successful feature of Prisunic marketing, with rigid control applied to both design standards and quality; and anyone who has ever shopped at even a remote provincial Prisunic will be familiar with the quality of Florine clothes, Kilt tools, car accessories and household equipment, and Forza foods. Sometimes a manufacturer will approach Prisunic with an idea, sometimes Prisunic will make the first approach, and of course good outside designers are frequently employed to develop a well researched idea into a saleable commodity.
One of the most forceful aspects of Prisunic marketing policy is the heavy emphasis put on the value of change. People quickly become bored with current goodies, they feel, and things that are reasonably cheap and expendable (clothes, stationery, china and haberdashery), should be offered to them for only a short while before being completely revamped. This approach, not one normally associated with the French temperament and dear in design and manufacturing costs, seems both brave and stimulating. Again - it has paid off.
The search for new ideas is pursued with even greater vigour, if that is possible, in the design studio. For 14 years, this was under the direction of Denise Fayolle, not herself a designer; she left last year but this formative period produced a tidal wave of posters, packaging, and publicity handouts that was diffused throughout France. Often partially submerged in the melee of the less well-organised branches, this material nevertheless shone through by virtue of its strength, clarity and wit. The Prisunic design studio, about 15 strong (only two designers are concerned with consumer items, the rest work on graphics), and with an uninhibited approach to everything it tackles, has provided encouragement and support for many young French designers, and it has helped raise the whole standard of graphics in France.
The company's special lines - Kilt, Messager for stationery, Florine - have had tremendous boosts from the sales appeal of their packaging, and this has always been designed with the specific aim of imprinting the name of the product on the purchaser's mind by the character of its presentation. Departmental buyers are always closely consulted when new packaging is being planned, and their obviously valuable views are given serious attention by the designers. There is now a designer in charge of the studio, and little likelihood of a slackening in these high standards.
The profits being amassed by mail-order firms had not gone unnoticed by Prisunic, and on April 14 of this year they launched a scheme which, despite the strikes and "evenements" which almost immediately descended upon Paris and other great cities, has had an enthusiastic and rewarding response. They began to sell several ranges of furniture through their stores, but, space being limited, little could be displayed and customers were wooed by means of a slim, colour catalogue. The main kinds of furniture on offer for this sortie into the mail-order field are a pleasant "classic" range; some cheerful, modern French furniture; a safe but dull Scandinavian style which they put in to insure themselves against possible reactionary buying habits; . range whose components are all based on that universal favourite, the seaman's chest; and some Conran furniture.
By midsummer, sales figures showed that the seaman's chest range and some knockdown wall units were selling best, but Mademoiselle de la Malene, chief buyer for household goods, reports with delight that 25-30 per cent of customers are buying the less conventional Conran goods. She hopes eventually to dispense with the "safe" Scandinavian range, and there is talk of a lively Olivier Mourgue range being included. (It is galling to note, incidentally, that Conran made in France is considerable cheaper than Conran made in England, even when the French price is translated into devalued English pounds.) About half the furniture is being bought direct from the catalogue with the customer never having seen what he is about to receive. Needless to say, it is an excellent catalogue which owes nothing to falsely flattering pictures; delivery of the furniture takes three weeks.
Food and drink are comparatively easy products to show in an appetising way. But the Prisunic design studio, in the range of labels for Forza jams and bottled fruits special to their stores, have managed to restrict their stylised fruits into a format while subtly retaining the promise of beautifully prepared preserves. Colour is rich and helps identify the fruit. The more expensive jams, opposite, are immediately distinguished by their labels, which have a restrained dignity not attempted for the cheaper products.
Traditional beer bottles get a Prisunic styling; so do the oddly shaped liqueur bottles, seen at their best in largescale shelf displays.
The Prisu Club beauty preparations are cheap and aimed at the young. The unusual yellow and blue colours of their packaging and their strong untraditional shapes follow this policy through. The Messager range of stationery and associated equipment, below, is famous both in France and abroad. Its appeal rests on simple, gay design, and the availability of matching sets of, say, notebook, pencils, pencil case, pastepot, and useful complete kits for schoolchildren.
In an organisation where ideas are born and used or discarded at a covetable rate, the promotion department is naturally one of the front runners, and a recent innovation rightly earned itself a place in the French pavilion at this year's Milan Triennale. This is the Soucoupe (which means saucer, and in this case refers to the flying kind), a travelling exhibition stand which heralds the arrival of brand-new Prisunic stores, or draws attention to improvements and new departments in existing ones. Designed by architect Jean Maneval, it consists of six shells, identically moulded in polyester strengthened with fibreglass, which are joined together in a star shape and topped with a small skull-cap. Each shell-shaped bay houses a concentrated display of different Prisunic products, all carefully chosen to seduce the sightseers into buying and coming again, and all visible through the wide windows. After its promotion job at one site, the whole thing is demounted and packed on to two lorries and a trailer to set out for the next.
In a way, the Soucoupe is a perfect symbol of Prisunic: modern, but not way-out, well-designed but not too esoteric to be acceptable, and demanding attention with its clear orange and white colour scheme. The crowds who flock through its door are only a fraction of those who throng the main stores, who are smoothly and quite painlessly being brainwashed into accepting a good standard of design as the norm.
This dining chair, in turned oak lacquered white with seat and back of natural-coloured canvas, retails at about £4 10s.
Prisunic offers a complete range of modern furniture, much of it by mail order. The glass storage jar is one of a range. The curved steel light fitting, centre, is one of three simple, neat designs. The child's whitewood storage boxes, bottom, retail at about £2 for the two draws and £7 for the chest.
The flying-saucer shape of the Soucoupe promotional vehicle, opposite, draws crowds whenever a new store is to be opened or an existing one extended. The bright orange capsule of glass fibre reinforced polyester was designed by Jean Maneval as an easily transportable display for promotion material.