Most people don’t find printer technology sexy. And to the uninitiated, one new printer can look much like another. So when Fuji Xerox New Zealand was launching its high-end Versant 2100 digital printing press earlier this year, it knew a glass of wine and a sausage roll wasn’t going to be enough to lure potential buyers to come along and consider forking out up to $200,000 for a new machine.
Instead the company teamed up with Auckland indie agency Republik to create Alfonso Versant, an eccentric, egotistical – and fictional – French fashion designer based on evil fashion mogul Jacobim Mugatu from the 2001 movie Zoolander. Versant commissioned two dozen (real) fashion students to design dresses, which were then printed out from the Versant 2100 and modelled down the catwalk at the launch function.
The idea worked. Fuji Xerox NZ met its 35-printer initial sales target within a couple of weeks of launch, and rumour has it that it beat some other Asia-Pacific countries in terms of post-launch sales – despite the relative size of our market.
Meanwhile the company has just commissioned some of the NZ Fashion Tech students to replicate two of the dresses to send to Fuji Xerox Hong Kong to help sell printers over there, says communications manager Amber Henderson, and there has been considerable interest in the idea from other parts of the Fuji Xerox empire.
Henderson says Fuji Xerox alone might launch as many as half a dozen printers a year, and with competing products also coming into the market, and variations between different products often subtle, getting clients along to product launches requires something out of the ordinary.
“We wanted to come up with an exciting different way to encourage people to come to the launch. Plus we liked the fact that there was a social good angle – working with the students.
“It’s been an overwhelming success. We had customers who turned up on the night with no intention of buying the printer, who came away saying ‘We have to get one of those’.”
NZ Fashion Tech managing director Kevin Smith says the students had less than a month from being briefed about the dresses to the launch date – but that was good training for going into a sometimes high-pressure industry.
“When we have these collaborations [the fashion design school has also worked on projects with tissue-maker Kleenex and paint company Resene] it’s as if they are working in the industry and they have deadlines. It’s about reinforcing their skills and their employability.”
He said students used a variety of printable materials, from paper and card to the clear plastic used in overhead projector slides. He says one of the biggest challenges was putting the fragile dresses together from the flat printed material, transporting them to the launch venue, and then getting them onto the models.
“It was quite a task. They had to be moved on a mannequin anchored to the bottom of a truck. Then because they were fragile, the models had to climb into them very carefully.”
Strangely, some people don't find printers as sexy as fashion models