Experts question M&S campaign: "Missed opportunity"

Monday, 24 March 2014
British department store group Marks & Spencer unveiled its spring/summer 2014 'Leading Ladies' campaign today, and its line-up includes some of the most influential women in the UK, such as campaigner Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, actress Emma Thompson, musician Annie Lennox, supermodel Alek Wel and artist Rita Ora.

But, despite M&S's upbeat sentiment concerning its star-studded campaign, not everyone seems to be convinced that the new leading ladies ad will achieve its desired effect upon its target audience. Even after the launch its first Leading Ladies campaign last year August, which featured the like of actress Helen Mirren, artist Ellie Goulding and presenter Katie Piper, M&S still suffered its ninth consecutive quarter of falling sales, indicating that perhaps the issues of its clothing sales does not lie with its marketing campaigns.

Will M&S Leading Ladies campaign resonate with 'real' women shoppers?

Although the new SS14 campaign is being praised for its widespread combination of positive female figure heads, Catherine Shuttleworth, chief executive officer at Savvy Marketing questions if the "interesting new line-up...will resonate with 'real' women shoppers. Could they name all of the models for example?" she asks. "Probably not in my opinion (and I certainly can't) and it therefore begs the question of how in touch M&S are with their shoppers, and also how accessible the clothes pictured actually are - bearing in mind how many different brands they now stock and how challenging it can be to find what you want, or to be inspired."

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director of marketing and business development at M&S says that the SS 14 campaign "is a celebration of style and accomplishment," adding that "these dynamic leading ladies represent the unique and diverse women of a modern Britain, " and stresses how "Marks & Spencer is a democratic brand which is relevant to women of all ages and strands of life." However, is this quintessentially British campaign enough to give its failing clothes sales the boost its needs?

Ceri Wheeldon, founder and editor at argues: "It's great that they have such good role models in their campaign over the age of 50, such as Annie Lennox and Emma Thompson. However, it is a shame that the clothing M&S selected for the campaign does not seem to match or fit their personalities." As the clothing collection stands now, Wheeldon reveals that she "would not be encouraged to buy their collection." And according to recent data, its seems she is not alone in that sentiment.

Last Friday, Reuters revealed data from research group Kantar Worldpanel, which showed M&S's share of the country's fashion market had dropped 0.2 percent in the 24 weeks to February 16 and declined 0.4 percent in the second half of the period. Then, last week Citi and Nomura analysts downgraded annual profits predictions for the British fashion retailer by 2 percent to 615 million pounds, after a slow spell hit the clothing market in last month. This highlights M&S's ongoing struggle with its clothing sales, regardless of its advertising tactics.

Judith Brady, owner of Style Consultancy and in-house style expert for Fab after Fifty, believes that the problem with M&S clothing sales lies elsewhere that its marketing strategy, stating: "No amount of time, money and effort put into their ad campaigns will persuade women to buy boring, style-less clothes. I thought they would have learnt from the failure of their last Leading Women campaign but, apparently not!"

Inspirational models insufficient to encourage women to purchase "uninspiring" M&S clothes

She notes that the change of models, no matter how inspirational they may be, they would not be enough to persuade the public to buy their clothing if its is "uninspiring." Wheeldon points out that although M&S were "spot on with their model choice," they missed a "great opportunity" with their SS14 clothing designs. Brady also commends M&S on their greater variety of models, but adds that she wishes the fashion retailer "would put more of their time, effort and money into getting the clothes right...[M&S] occasionally makes something great, but then it's only available in London or their flagship stores, which rules out most of its market."

Shuttleworth also points out how M&S rival Next seems to be surpassing them sales wise, "without these kinds of images". Last week department store group Next revealed annual profits of 695 million pounds, which is 67 million more than the amount forecast for M&S, when it announces its results in May. Brady concludes that M&S "frequently seems to get the trends just wrong and the majority of clothes are frumpy...[It's] no wonder that Next have overtaken them by such a huge margin, at least they are in touch with what their customers want."

The downgrades, combined with increasing rivalry from Next and John Lewis will undoubtedly be putting more pressure on M&S Chief Executive Officer Marc Bolland to turnaround declining clothing sales. Now, only time can tell if M&S will achieve better luck around the second time with its Leading Ladies.

The Leading Ladies campaign is set to launch in stores and across multiple M&S platforms on March 31.

Photo: M&S Spring/Summer 14 Leading Ladies Campaign.

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