A victory for branding

This Chesterfield ad appeared in the 2015 Annual AdFocus. Read the copy below:

“PICTURED, above left, is one half of what was once a rather splendid 19th century leather button-back, scroll-arm Chesterfield sofa.

For thirty years it languished in the outbuilding of a rambling Georgian rectory in a quiet village in Northamptonshire, England.
Following the death of the owner, an academic, the house contents were to be auctioned off. A local auctioneer appraised the sofa to have a value in the region of R400.

Until a comment made by a member of the late owner’s family stopped Mr Humbert, the auctioneer, dead in his tracks.
“It was gifted to my late father. We’ve always called it Churchill’s Seat,” the family member disclosed. “Sir Winston Churchill had it in his private Whitehall apartment during his second term as prime minister.”

In an instant, the association of a clapped out wreck of a sofa with one of the most iconic names of the last century was established. This revelation called for a drastic reappraisal.

So the sofa was put on auction on 24th July 2010. A fact that made the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper website.
The article was forwarded to the founder and chairman of a South African advertising agency, who just happened to have a thing for Chesterfield sofas (an exquisite Chesterfield consumed the entire budget for boardroom furniture when the agency first opened its doors for business). He also happened to have a thing for the late wartime prime minister, credited with leading Europe out of the clutches of the Nazis.

So, on the evening of 24th July 2010, as the auction got under way in England, an expectant bidder in South Africa sat on the phone in darkness (an Eskom power-cut having enveloped Gauteng).

There were a number of phone bids that night from various parts of the world. The price quickly escalating as a bidding war erupted between an American collector of Churchilliana and the chairman of The Jupiter Drawing Room.
When the hammer finally fell and the lively applause subsided, the torn and ripped Chesterfield had sold for £7500 (about R150,000 at today’s prices).

For the American collector, it was a question of close, but no cigar.

R150,000 is a sizeable sum, one might argue, for something that a few weeks before was destined for a skip.

Undeterred, the enthusiastic new owner placed the sofa in the hands of master leather conservator, Ian Beaumont Esq. His work for The National Trust, The Royal Collection and Oxford University Colleges had earned him an enviable reputation.
No expense was spared in the restoration process, bringing the Chesterfield back to a state worthy to once again grace a Whitehall apartment. This would be its finest hour.

Once completed, many months later, the total investment in the Chesterfield had risen to R270,000.

Then something interesting happened. When news of the sofa’s rescue and painstaking restoration was reported, it yeilded an unsolicited offer of R400,000.

All of which goes to prove two things. Firstly, the wisdom of investing in a strong brand (we believe people are brands, every bit as much as products are – Churchill has been described as, “the most iconic British personal brand”).

Secondly, the fact that a valuable brand commands an enormous premium.

Enduring brands do not lose their value. Rather the opposite in fact (which explains why the offer of R400,000 for Churchill’s Chesterfield was graciously declined).

So a wreck became an heirloom, an expense became an investment. And an iconic piece of furniture destined for a skip became an item of furniture lovingly restored for future generations.

A victory for branding one might say. Certainly, a cause for celebration. A glass of Bollinger, perhaps?

Or, in the spirit of the great man himself, a bottle or two of Pol Roger and a generously proportioned Romeo y Julieta cigar.
On the Chesterfield. Of Course.