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Asda riles M&S with George price comparison campaign

A war of words has broken out between Asda and Marks & Spencer after the supermarket launched a new advertising strategy, pitching its clothing line George against higher-priced collections from its high street rivals.

Asda, which launched the campaign in newspapers and magazines last week under the "Why pay more?" banner, compared T-shirt bras from George and M&S, with Asda's retailing at £4 and M&S's at £9.

But M&S executive director for marketing Steven Sharp claimed the Asda bra was not comparable to M&S's. "This is a questionable piece of advertising," he said. "Every one of our bras is machine washable, whereas you have to hand wash the Asda garment. If you can't machine wash it, what does that say about the quality? And who has time to hand wash these days? What's more, the Asda bra is only available in a limited range of sizes and there is no country of origin on its label."

This is the first time Asda has employed such an advertising tactic for George, but it has previously used the strategy on food ads. M&S is the first target for the new campaign, said an Asda spokesman, and further comparisons will follow, featuring other high street retailers that Asda believes it can beat on price.

Asda said it planned to extend the campaign to other product categories across clothing and general merchandise, but the spokesman dismissed M&S's rebuke. "It appears our friends at M&S are getting their knickers in a twist. We're doing this to show that great value doesn't have to be at the expense of ethics, quality, fit and design. Customers tell us our George underwear is as good, if not better, than anything else on the high street, and they appreciate our low prices. George is cheaper than its competitors because we don't hold on to high margins like other retailers."

Deborah Carter, account director at branding consultancy Dragon, said it was a clever move from Asda. "George has always done well on trends and competitive prices, but it hasn't necessarily been associated with quality. By pitching itself against M&S, which is synonymous with quality, the George brand is alluding to that."

But the marketing manager of one value chain said consumers were far too savvy and would expect a more expensive product to perform better.

- Asda is to open 18 stores across the UK this year and will add 10 new Living stores to its seven-strong portfolio, following the non-food format's launch in Northern Ireland this week and in Oldham in April.

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