Marks & Spencer’s autumn 13 campaign has been given the thumbs down by branding and industry experts, who claim the advert is disconnected from the reality of its mid-market appeal.
Industry estimates put the cost of the campaign, which was shot by US photographer Annie Leibovitz and features actress Helen Mirren, artist Tracey Emin, Olympic boxer Nicola Adams and US Voguecreative director Grace Coddington, at a low-seven-figure sum. It will appear in print, online, on billboards and TV.
But one brand consultant, who asked to remain anonymous, told Drapers it was “misguided”.
“I was blown away by the scale of it, but it misses the point of fashion advertising, which is to create desire,” he said.
“A fashion advert has to make you love something and this is not what this campaign is about: it’s about spending an awful lot of money in the mistaken belief you can turn things around through a huge demonstration of buying power.”
James Murphy, founder of creative agency Adam & Eve, which counts John Lewis as one of its clients, applauded the overall concept but questioned whether M&S had “earned the right to play in quite such an aspirational place yet”.
He said: “It’s a very confident idea but I wonder whether it’s the right time in the product cycle for them to run this kind of campaign.
“If it had come on the back of a couple of massively successful seasons, where people were saying it was back on track, it would make sense to have this amazing ramping up of confidence, but to come at it from their back-foot position feels like it has slipped from reality.”
Neil Saunders, analyst at retail research firm Conlumino, agreed. “To have characters like Helen
Mirren and Grace Coddington, it’s clear they’ve pulled all the stops out to get icons who appeal to women of all different ages and backgrounds. The whole thing looks really good, but with such broad appeal the message is liable to get a bit lost.
“M&S has missed the chance to target and hone in on a particular segment, which was one of the things the autumn collection was supposed to be addressing.”
Saunders also raised concerns over the juxtaposition of the imagery with the experience in store, saying the two “jarred”.
“The marketing is one step removed from where M&S is in practical terms. Advertising should always set the tone rather than being totally rooted in reality, but this brings you back down to Earth with a bump.”
One director from a rival retailer said: “It’s a nice idea – take an intriguing perfect dinner party mix of empowered women and have them shot by an incredible photographer – but one that misses the mark on execution and brand relevance.
“M&S needs to talk about why we should all love it again, why it is different, why it has so much emotional currency – the things it brought us and can bring us again. This would be a tricky ad for a brand in a very confident position – M&S is not there.”
An M&S spokeswoman defended the scale of the campaign as setting the future direction of the usiness.
She declined to comment on the cost of the campaign.
Our fashion team’s verdict
The only difference between this campaign and the M&S adverts of old, with Twiggy, Myleene Klass and Dannii Minogue, is the eye-watering expense it must have cost to recruit the likes of Mirren and Coddington, let alone have it photographed by Annie Leibovitz. It’s all a little too ‘in your face’ and the message is confusing. Some of the women are too high-pro_ile to be believable as M&S spokeswomen. One, at least, is too young for the so-called return to M&S’s core customer.
By Emily Norval