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Who says advertising doesn't pay?

Clothing retailers would make for better TV ad breaks than baked beans, says Rachel Barnes

TV advertising has never been a key part of major clothing retailers' marketing plans. They favour a bit of press here and there, email campaigns and - what they refer to as free ads on every high street - their shop windows.

But has the acknowledged success of Marks & Spencer's TV ads changed perceptions in marketing directors' minds across the industry?

It certainly appears to have struck a chord with Next, which after 12 years off our small screens has returned to TV advertising. At present the campaign is limited to Scotland, but without doubt Next will consider using it nationwide if it pulls in the punters. A close eye will be kept on Scottish trading and, perhaps, we'll hear more about its ad strategy when Next reports full-year trading results next week.

Other than occasional Gap and Debenhams ads, you would be hard pushed to picture any clothing retailers on TV - other than the supermarkets. But why is that? Well, it is thought that aspirational quality of fashion can't be translated to a mass-marketed TV platform. Reaching a captive audience through women's magazines apparently makes much more cost-effective sense.

However, the idea that fashion and TV ads don't mix has been proved wrong by M&S. The retailer has credited its celeb-fronted campaign, featuring Twiggy, Erin O'Connor et al, with playing a key role in its revival by pulling in 18 million more visits to its stores.

And a bit of M&S sparkle is what Next needs. M&S's campaign has reminded people why they should be shopping at its stores as well as reasserting in their minds the aspirational value of its fashion product.

When times are tough, splashing out on costly TV ads is understandably not top of the agenda. But perhaps this should change. An ad budget the size of M&S's £60 million pot is not available to everyone, but some careful media planning, rather than a blitz, can raise a retailer's profile no end. See's sponsorship of America's Next Top Model on Living TV as a perfectly targeted campaign. It may have forked out a six-figure sum, but a longer term view of increasing brand awareness among a fashion-savvy audience ought to pay off.

It's probably obvious from the above that I'm a secret advertising bore. I don't sit glued to the screen in every ad break, but I am engaged when it's a product relevant to me - M&S and are two in question. I fail to see why a carefully targeted Monsoon campaign wouldn't result in increased footfall. And I'd rather see some beautiful clothes than watch a soul-singing baked bean tin, as seen in Branston's baked beans ad.

TV aside, marketing shouldn't be the sole domain of the multiples. The best indies are the ones that have become direct marketing experts. Building up a database of shoppers and identifying what they buy and when they buy it will provide invaluable data for marketing - be it press, radio or bespoke direct mail.

One thing that must be remembered by clothing retailers of all sizes, however, is that advertising and publicity are not the same thing. All publicity may be good publicity, but a bad ad campaign can have dire consequences. Do I need to remind you of what one naked woman running up a hill can do to your business?

- Rachel Barnes is news editor at Drapers.

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