CAMPAIGN: Builder gives family a taste of concept living

Housebuilder David Wilson Homes had a reputation as a cautious, traditional provider that only supplied houses at the higher end of the market.

Campaign Project:LiFE Research House
Client David Wilson Homes
PR team McCann Erickson Public Relations
Timescale 2004-2007
Budget Less than £200,000

McCann Erickson, which was tasked with raising the profile of the firm, proposed an ambitious plan. It recommended that the firm should emulate the car industry by building a ‘concept house’ and selecting a family to ‘test drive’ it for six months.

The resulting research would provide insights into family dynamics that could influence future house design, and lead to positive coverage.

To make David Wilson Homes stand out by demonstrating its understanding of the needs and wants of today’s housebuyers. To achieve national press and broadcast coverage.

Strategy and Plan
To ensure the project had credibility and value, McCann Erickson proposed a collaboration with the University of Nottingham’s School of the Built Environment, as well as a behavioural psychologist from the University of Leicester.

Both were involved throughout the campaign.

Due to the considerable investment required, 70 suppliers were persuaded to showcase their products within the home, a move that encouraged their PR support for the project. When completed, the house, on the outskirts of Sheffield, featured a built-in esp­resso machine, plasma TV screens, und­erfloor heating, a music library, a sunken bath, and a spare bed in the wardrobe. The property was valued at more than £1m.

The PR team then undertook a nationwide media appeal to find the ‘test-drive family’, and sel­ected media were offered overnight stays at the property. During their seven-month period of occupation, the Parnell family were tagged and monitored by the two universities.

Measurement and Evaluation
Coverage included 11 items on national TV, four pieces on national radio, 14 regional TV items and a number of regional radio spots. Highlights included BBC Breakfast.

Elsewhere, BBC Newsround also reported on the experiment, and ran an interview with the youngest daughter of the house. Print coverage included the Sunday Express, Financial Times and The Daily Telegraph, all of which mentioned David Wilson Homes.

In addition, considerable coverage was achieved within housebuilding trade press.

The Mail on Sunday caused disappointment by backing out of an exclusive deal. Fortunately, an alternative exclusive was negotiated with The Observer – and on the day that it relaunched in its Berliner format.

Coverage exceeded expec­tations, and the value of the project to David Wilson Homes has been estimated at £13m. No market research has been commissioned to gauge its reputation, but the company has been asked by industry body Design For Homes to sponsor eScape – a townhouse design competition – and has been given many speaker opportunities at trade events.

Freelance journalist Edi Smockum, who moved her family into the house for a weekend on behalf of the Financial Times, says: ‘The house was a brilliant initiative by a builder who likes to think outside the box – and by “box” I mean most new-build houses.’

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