As Marks & Spencer announces Holly Willoughby as its new brand ambassador, is the TV-turned-social media star enough to save the retailer?
In the on-going battle of the UK high street, Marks & Spencer has armed itself with a new weapon – one that promises to score a painful blow to its competitors.
Hoping to bring interest – and sales – back to its womenswear department, TV star Holly Willoughby has stepped into the celebrity-shaped hole left by former M&S ally Alexa Chung as the retailer’s new brand ambassador.
Willoughby will put her name to an edit of “Holly’s must-haves” from M&S’s autumn 18 collection. It will launch online and in selected stores on 27 September, alongside further edits dropping in October and 2019.
And it promises to be a success.
Although she is best known as the high-profile co-host of ITV’s This Morning, Willoughby has been turning herself into a social media fashion influencer. She posts her outfit on the platform each day, from high street names such as LK Bennett, Reiss, Miss Selfridge, Warehouse and Kurt Geiger, mixed with the odd piece of Maje, Reformation and Bella Freud.
She has amassed an impressive social audience: 3.9 million Instagram followers and counting (compared with co-host Philip Schofield’s 2.1 million, Love Island presenter Caroline Flack’s 1.9 million and Love Island co-winner Danni Dyer’s 3.2 million).
Importantly, Willoughby’s followers await her sartorial updates and shop accordingly, making her an influencer in the truest form.
Retailers and brands have confirmed to Drapers that not only do the items that Willoughby wears fly out of stores, but certain businesses are taking direct inspiration from her outfits, and her style influences their own product designs.
Willoughby is a smart choice for M&S. The 37-year-old mother of three is relevant and cool, yet relatable and commercial in a unique way, giving her a mass appeal that is quite unusual. Importantly, this includes a wide range of ages, including the M&S target and average customer, plus some new shoppers.
There are nods to trends and directional pieces in her outfit choices, like fully sequinned skirts and leather culottes, but these are balanced with flattering and wearable shapes and wardrobe staples pepped up with colour and print – a perfect fit for M&S.
While Chung’s work with the retailer impressed some in the fashion press, there was a disconnect between the “It girl” and the average M&S shopper. Willoughby, on the other hand, balances an achievable sense of style with an aspirational flair, one that I’m sure M&S are hoping to cash in on.
She has a huge platform, both on television and social media, and comes across as likeable and approachable, which results in her fashion following being based on an authenticity that typical celebrity collaborations can lack. Her love of high street labels – which often already includes M&S products – makes this link feel very natural.
This indicates that the M&S team have really thought about their core customer and are pitching their fashion collections in a more relevant way. Time will tell if the Willoughby effect will shine on the retailer.