Stifling the stairlift stigma

What is so funny about a Stannah stairlift? There are two ways to answer that, either of which, were you stick to it unwaveringly, would leave you feeling somewhat disingenuous.

For anyone who has seen Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, the comedy series set in a northern working men's club, there is no denying that the stairlift provides a rich vein of comedy material. In one episode Kay's character, Brian Potter, who is disabled, appears in a 'stairlift seduction' scene describing, during an excruciatingly slow ascent of the stairs, what he plans to do to his conquest once they get to the bedroom. In another, he gets stuck in his stairlift for a day due to a power cut; 'What would Thora Hird do?' asks Kay, in reference to the late actress' long-running ad campaign for Churchill's stairlifts.

The other answer is for the serious-minded and guilt-free - that there is nothing funny about a stairlift, Stannah or other-branded, and there is certainly no humour to be found in the effects of old age or debilitating medical conditions that make the devices an indispensable, life-enhancing fixture for many households across the UK.

Now imagine yourself in the position of marketing director for Stannah. Your predicament is that on one hand, you have a meticulously designed, market-leading product line facing an ageing demographic, and on the other, the stigma and comedy associations holding your prospects back. What are you going to do?

Stannah has decided to break out of the Sunday supplement back pages it has populated for so long and confront the issue head-on by addressing the misconceptions. What's more, the issue is being communicated by Leagas Delaney in a clever way; far more so, certainly, than wading in with the question 'what is so funny about a Stannah stairlift?' anyway.

The press ads will feature such hard-hitting lines as 'Ever heard the phrase "Home sweet nursing home"?', driving home the message that stairlifts provide a real alternative to moving out of one's house and inadvertently making the guilty burden of distress purchases for the elderly someone else's marketing problem. The TV ads include one execution showing a couple making the decision to buy a stairlift without being able to openly use the word.

Did I say TV? Well, yes, the company's media strategy shows just how seriously it is taking its quandary. The ads break next Monday during Coronation Street and introduce the strapline 'Stannah. The stairlift people', which curiously is the least true element of the entire campaign. The brand has a 140-year history and, as well as its stairlift fame, is the UK's biggest independent manufacturer of passenger and goods lifts.

In theory, then, Stannah has the brand credibility and financial muscle to create a campaign that will change category perceptions. In a market where it is the best-known brand among an audience that, if not entirely self-selecting, is one of the easiest to identify and target with direct activity, it has chosen to use mainstream TV, national newspapers and consumer magazines.

Quite how deep the stigma surrounding stairlifts is remains to be seen. As a product that few wish to purchase, let along talk about, it shares some awkward company, from walk-in baths to funerals and organ donors - anything, in other words, that relates to our mortality. It will be compelling to see how the campaign is received.

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