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Fashion Index: M&S needs to have more than clever marketing

Read our fashion index page to get a barometer of trade in the UK.


Dan Cohen, director of corporate advisory firm Zolfo Cooper

Marks & Spencer has once again found itself caught up in negative headlines. The retailer has seen its clothing sales take a hit after engaging in heavy discounting in an attempt to attract consumers. At the same time, it has often been accused of providing out-of-date fashion and has lost considerable market share to its rival Next, which is poised to overtake Marks & Spencer for the first time.

However, Marks & Spencer has not taken this criticism lying down. The past year has seen the retail institution fight back by completely revamping its clothing range in an attempt to modernise its merchandise.

It has also announced plans to open 250 stores internationally over the next three years, including locations in western Europe, the Middle East and India. What’s more, after a previous failed attempt in China, Marc Bolland has said he will now look for a local Chinese partner.

Perhaps most significantly, the retailer has launched the second instalment of its Leading Ladies marketing campaign, this season starring celebrities such as Emma Thompson and Rita Ora.

Marks & Spencer has again hired photographer Annie Leibovitz - arguably a celebrity in her own right - to take the pictures of the retailer’s leading ladies. Leibovitz has already taken photographs of nearly everyone you can think of, from President Obama and John Lennon to the Queen, and Marc Bolland will no doubt be hoping that Annie will be able to give Marks & Spencer the makeover - and sales boost - that it has been searching for.

But will the Leading Ladies campaign, which first appeared last autumn, be enough to help Marks & Spencer rebuild its reputation with Britain’s savvy shoppers? Maybe. The problem is that if you look at the age range of the leading ladies, it is hard to identify exactly who the retailer is trying to appeal to.

As I have said many times before, it is essential for retailers to have a focused market offering and, in my opinion, it is incredibly difficult to go after the 20-something shopper while also appealing to their mothers and grandmothers.

In its defence, Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, Marks & Spencer’s executive director of marketing and business development, has argued that the campaign “is a vision of the unique and diverse women of a modern Britain”.

He goes on to say: “Marks & Spencer is a democratic brand, which is relevant to women of all ages and strands of life.”

Let’s hope Patrick is right and that the campaign engages with consumers as he hopes - and also has a positive effect on the retailer’s bottom line.

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