I always looked down a bit on Samsonite. I thought of them as making sturdy, but dowdy and un-exciting luggage. So I laughed when I heard about them trying to go upmarket with a range called Black Label. Samonsite going upmarket? You gotta be kidding.
Then I cried when I saw the first bit of advertising in 2006 featuring Isabella Rosselini. Check out that bag... doesn't that look, like, ugh! And the whole private jet thing is just trying sooooo hard to say "Look at us. We're flying upmarket". I know the tagline is "Life's a journey". But it does feel like one of those "Whoops! My strategy is showing!" sort of ads.
But then last month I saw another ad from Samsonite that had me salivating. This one features uber cool photographer Knick Knight with what looks like a really, really cool black computer bag.
I found it hard to believe, but I was actually considering Samsonite as a serious option. I even went to look at the website. What the hell was going on?
1. A product's worth a thousand ads
If you want people to re-consider your brand, to re-evaluate it, then nothing works like product innovation. In this case, the new Bayamo range really is beautifully designed. Sleek, sophisticated, with some nice design features. But without being too flashy. It drew me into the Samsonite brand like a magnet, and got me to visit the website.
2. You need the right kind of sizzle
Whereas the Isabella ads tried to add emotional sizzle but, for me at least, failed, the new one with Nick Knight works better. He has the design and style values they are trying to portray. He is also someone who has to travel a lot, so there is a truth in why luggage matters to him.
3. Tell a true story
A nice touch is that the Nick Knight shoot actually tool place in his studio, which adds a bit of authenticity to the story. It feels more real, whereas the Isabella ads look staged.
4. Is private equity making the brand "fitter for business"?
I always try to get the business results of any brand I write about. At the end of the day, that's what matters most. Too often, marketing seminars and blogs are a "beauty contest" where people talk about what they like and admire in branding, rather than what works.
I dug around for some data, but couldn't get recent results. But the reason for this lack of data was interesting. Samsonite was bought by private equity company CVC last July. My guess is that this move has helped sharpen up Samsonite's act, and got the brand mix working better. Its certainly what CVC said they were going to do:
"CVC expects to work with the Samsonite senior management team to further invest in the brand, product development and the distribution systems to achieve the organic growth potential."
I'll watch with interest to see what happens to Samsonite. But based on their latest product news, and the arrival of CVC, my bet is that the company will be sold to one of the big luxury goods groups in a couple of year's time for a hefty premium.