Facing up to the future

M&Ss recent resurgence has depended heavily on its advertising. But will the new face set to front its Christmas campaign Hollywood actor Antonio Banderas take it to the next level, and will the in-store merchandise match up to the marketing hype? asks Matthew Gorman

Antonio%20Banderas_120M&S’s recent resurgence has depended heavily on its advertising. But will the new face set to front its Christmas campaign – Hollywood actor Antonio Banderas – take it to the ‘next level’, and will the in-store merchandise match up to the marketing hype? asks Matthew Gorman

Marks & Spencer, whose advertising has been integral to its recent turnaround, is signing Antonio Banderas to star in its Christmas campaign (MW last week). But opinion is divided over whether the Hollywood actor is the right choice for M&S, which has long been the cornerstone of the high street in the UK.

Banderas, whose films include The Mask of Zorro and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, will be cast as a matinée screen idol in a campaign that will pay tribute to Hollywood films from the 1940s and 1950s. Many industry experts believe the campaign will take M&S to the “next level”, but others warn that the retailer’s core middle-England audience may not have heard of Banderas.

The resurgence of M&S has been closely linked to its advertising, which has featured Welsh singer Shirley Bassey, 1960s icon Twiggy and models Erin O’Connor, Laura Bailey, Lizzie Jagger, Noémie Lenoir and, more recently, Myleene Klass. The addition of Banderas to its Christmas campaign, which is being created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, is being seen as the retailer’s first concerted attempt to promote its fashion offer beyond womenswear. The only real activity for its menswear range has underpinned the Autograph line, which has been promoted by several male celebrities, including Bryan Ferry.

Turning up the heat
One advertising source says Banderas’s signing “is all about raising the bar on their last ad”. The source adds: “The fashion business is often driven by the use of celebrities. [M&S] has grown over the years from having Zoe Ball to Graham Norton to Helen Mirren and Shirley Bassey. It is gradually turning the dial up.” 

M&S’s advertising strategy can be broken down into three groups: fashion, fronted by Twiggy and the M&S “girls”; food, which uses the “this isn’t just food” strapline; and customer relationship management, which was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year with the retailer’s Plan A “green” commitment.

Jasmine Montgomery, deputy managing director and head of strategy at FutureBrand, says: “The ads have been phenomenal – so insightful. Thank God they didn’t have Tony Blair coming out in Levis trying to be cool.” She believes that the campaigns are all about style, elegance and beauty, and champion older women in a similar way to the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign.

Montgomery adds: “Just the visual look and feel of that campaign set up what M&S is about. You wanted life to look like that.” She thinks that having a mix of ages in the same shot has been “phenomenal” at advertising across categories.

But Richard Perks, director of retail research at Mintel, believes advertising can only do so much. “It has been successful and ads will get people into stores, but if you don’t have what they want, they won’t buy,” he says. “Merchandise is the key.”

Middle of the road
The advertising source also questions how relevant Banderas is to M&S’s core market: “Its target audience is still very middle England, middle class and middle aged, and one issue will be how many people know who he is.”
The campaign has been running for more than three years and, according to one industry insider, M&S will need to have a rethink in about 18 months. “The formula has been the same for some time, with Twiggy and the girls, and the look and the feel,” says the insider. “You have to ask where next? The public wants constant news and evolution, as do the City and analysts.”

Fashion retailers have to keep the brand fresh, but changing their focus to other sectors, such as menswear, usually only lasts for a limited amount of time because womenswear generates the bulk of sales.

Beyond the advertising, the revival of M&S, since chief executive Stuart Rose took over in 2004, has been one of the biggest success stories of British retailing in recent years. Montgomery says: “M&S has been a phenomenal turnaround story. On a good day it was seen as cheap, but good value and on a bad day, cheap and frumpy.”
As part of its revival, the company has expanded its price ranges, improved stores and moved into new areas, such as catering, with concepts such as its M&S Kitchen pilot (MW April 5).

Neil Saunders, consulting director at Mintel, says clothes and food are the main staples of the business, but he adds that there are now opportunities for the retailer in other areas. A number of stores have small technology sections, selling items such as MP3 players and flat-screen televisions, along with white goods. Homeware is seen as another growth area.

Montgomery adds: “M&S is doing a fantastic job in certain categories and has a huge reputation to leverage if it goes into other areas. Menswear and childrenswear are no-brainers. They are low-hanging fruit.” She says she would like to see the company moving into other categories such as bookshops, restaurants and delicatessens, although Perks argues he cannot see standalone stores ever being more then a “nice to have”.

Along with extending its product range, the retailer has moved beyond the “one-size-fits-all” mentality for its store formats and begun adapting to location. Along with expanding its Simply Food concept – through standalone stores and concessions in petrol stations – the retailer has started trialling a new homewares store concept in Northern Ireland.

Saunders says: “You need to have different store formats and I think M&S, for a long time, tried to make one size fit all. Stores in the high street looked like the ones in city centres.” Larger stores, such as the one at Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, have such a wide variety of products for sale that they resemble department stores.
This has pushed M&S into a grey area. One branding expert says it needs to clarify its brand position to determine whether its stores will be seen as department stores or standalone stores.

Expanding abroad is also now considered one of the biggest opportunities for M&S. The company very publicly closed the majority of its international stores at the end of the 1990s, as it struggled in its home market. But analysts say the time is now right for the company to start looking abroad again. It has already opened stores overseas through franchise agreements, including a new outlet in Dubai.

For the past five years, M&S has had a spectacular reversal in fortunes on the back of a hugely successful advertising campaign. It will be hoping the addition of Banderas can take it to that “next level”.

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