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Fresh Perspectives: Redefining a brand



More than a quarter of a century old, Buster products are engineered to tackle a wide range of drain care problems, from blockages, bad odors and germs. Despite the brand’s long history in the U.K., Buster struggled with brand recognition. To help re-invigorate the brand, Buster’s parent company Challs International partnered with Elmwood on a brand overall in 2004.

Five years later, the duo has executed and implemented a brand refresh that evolved and elevated the brand into a serious category contender, raising its ranking to become the U.K.’s No. 2 brand. The most recent branding and marketing challenge for Buster was to create a platform for sustained growth, to expand internationally and ultimately to claim the top slot in the U.K. market.

Faced with continuing global recession and competition from well-financed mega-brands, the market wasn’t exactly flowing freely. Against a background of austerity, how was it possible to challenge the big brands and persuade more people to buy Buster?

The answer? Change everything. Evolve brand packaging to challenge the category norms and cut through the noise to help customers get what they want. Redefine your product range, change the category language, and finally add some innovation with a new product! In tough times, consumers look for products that really work because they can’t afford to waste money. So, a specialist approach works better than a generalist.

Outline of the brief

When Elmwood first worked with the Buster brand in 2004 as part of a Design Council initiative to help small businesses. The brand relaunch helped establish national supermarket sales and listings for its four core products: an unblocker and freshener for both the bathroom and the kitchen. In 2009, a move from labels to shrink sleeves helped the brand to keep moving forward, increasing sales and distribution and raising it to the No. 2 slot in the U.K.


Buster was doing well in a category dominated by big brands. Mr. Muscle and Domestos had the advantage of physically larger formats and big above the line budgets, yet in eight short years to 2012 Buster had become a serious category contender. But despite its strong position, with consumers inhibited by a continuing climate of austerity, the sales weren’t flowing through.

Buster was also heavily reliant on one product, their Bathroom Plughole Unblocker, which accounted for 79% of sales. While consumers understood the need for unblockers, they hadn’t quite grasped the need for regular cleaning and maintenance to prevent blockages and bad smells. Without the above-the-line funds to build awareness and help educate consumers, this was a significant challenge.

To reach the goals of developing a strategy and platform for growth, both in the U.K. and abroad—specifically to double U.K. value sales by 2017 (a five-year plan) and strengthen the impact of the Buster brand on shelf, in order to become the No.1 brand in the U.K. market by January 2015, the three agreed-upon vehicles for achieving these goals were to:

• Make the smaller package format work for and not against the brand

• Convey the need for regular cleaning

• Focus on Bathroom Plughole Unblocker, which accounted for 80% of sales


Recognizing emotional needs and triggers

Elmwood applied agency-specific design principles to challenge the market norms and create cut-through, including its Biomotive Triggers, which are sensory marketing techniques, developed at Elmwood in collaboration with Bradford University School of Management. They are biological and emotional responses to visual and other stimuli that can be used to trigger reactions and action in consumers.

The agency noted that most consumers shopped for these types of products in an agitated state. When confronted by a wall of power brands shouting for attention, these shoppers simply didn’t know where to look. The firm knew that shouting louder than everyone else wouldn’t really cut it. In everyday life, people rarely experience moments of visual or auditory calm, so when they do occur, shoppers naturally gravitate towards them. The firm worked to create a communication hierarchy that made answered two questions at a glance:

What is the product?

What does the product do?

Delivering clear signals


Most people shop instinctively by color and shape, they don’t read many words. So Elmwood evolved the Buster brand mark, increased its prominence in the design hierarchy and made it a bigger feature of the design.

Simple visual iconography was employed to help people understand the products in the range. For the Unblockers, the plughole icon and active vortex below communicates power and effectiveness. This was supported by simple messaging and a clear statement of the benefit.

The maintenance products presented more of a challenge as consumers didn’t understand the need for them. Combining the plughole, the U-bend graphic and the flowers coming out of the plughole to represent cleanliness and freshness allow customers to quickly understand what the product’s about. It’s also more attractive than competitor packs, giving consumers permission to leave it out on display.

As part of the platform for growth, a design for the anticipated introduction of a new deep clean foamer for weekly use was created. This provided a bridge between the Unblockers and Sanitisers.

Becoming a category leader

The improved clarity between products was clearly a hit with retailers, leading to increased distribution for Buster: Sainsbury’s now lists Bathroom Plughole Unblocker in all 1,294 stores in the U.K., including local stores where you will only find Buster, in favor of their own brand. Buster has deeper distribution in Asda, approximately another 300 stores for both Kitchen and Bathroom Plughole Unblockers were added in 2015.

Phenomenal sales increases show the impact the redesign has had, and put in the context of a market that has grown by 13.9% from £32.61m to £37.13m (approximate USD equivalent: 42.34 million to 48.25 million). Nielsen research shows Buster is leading this category growth and is also on target to meet its 2017 goals of doubling U.K. value sales.

Shopping triggers for this category were effectively changed. The combined Sanitiser products have raised an additional £320,000 (approximate USD equivalent: 415,865) in value sales. Unblocker sales have also grown: Kitchen Unblocker now accounts for 16% of Buster’s sales, doubling its percentage before the redesign, and Bathroom Unblocker has gone from 80% to 72%.

“When you don’t have huge above the line budgets, you need to invest wisely,” Graham Burchell, managing director, Challs International, says. “The focus of our investment for 12 years has been using the power of design to cut through at the point of sale, and that has been pivotal in making Buster the No. 1 brand.” The brand refresh design budget and product costs were only £40,000 (approximate USD equivalent: 51,948).

The new branding has allowed Buster to secure new listings in Australia and New Zealand, Singapore, the US and Denmark, and it has experienced impressive export results already, with a total of 2% of their growing sales coming from exports.

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