Boden’s agency dilemma will be a lesson for boutique brands

Joe is Marketing Week’s agency specialist.

The news that Boden and WCRS&Co have parted company by mutual agreement, seemed somewhat surprising on first glance. Yet the company’s positive financial results have shed some light on why the business has decided it doesn’t need an agency partner. Do niche successes like Boden really need high profiles?


Boden has decided to create any future advertising in-house after working on a “brand platform” with the Engine-owned agency, which it appointed in October last year – no adverts were ever released in this time but two viral promotions were produced.

In a joint statement, WCRS&Co and Boden said: “Together we have created a strong brand platform for Boden’s future communication needs but it has become clear there is no longer a need for an agency to develop advertising.”

But why would a brand that was already building celebrity buzz from the likes of Prime Minister David Cameron, the American First Lady Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie and Tess Daly, not want an ad agency to promote it to the masses.

Having gone to the effort of running a pitch, which saw several of adland’s finest donning their best “Bodenland” attire to land the brief, it seems that the brand prefers to stick to the “uniform of the upper middle classes at play” stereotype it has created for itself and does not need the support of advertising creatives and strategists to change this after all.

Indeed, its results speak volumes. The catalogue retailer revealed a jump in profits with turnover due to be up 15% to £232m, and pre-tax profits up 13% at £32.5m, for the year to the end of last December. Sales rose 61% in Germany and Austria as the retailer pushed abroad.

Boden said it had a total of 1.27m active customers at the end of last year, an 11% rise on the previous 12 months. So surely, an ad agency should be key to boosting these numbers? Especially with its YouTube channel delivering less than 100 views per video, here’s another promotional film released just two months ago:

But alas, it appears an agency is not needed. In press statements, chief executive Julian Granville, pointed to successful “internet-only styles without the support of catalogue mailings” as “particularly promising and will help drive profitability in the longer-term. We will look to expand this area over the course of the next year.”

There would be no need for ad support for a brand enhancing online buzz and a particular niche of a customer base. Indeed, Experian is in charge of boosting its customer acquisition marketing activities until 2013. It promised “to double cold acquisition activity over the next year and to increase this by a further 50 per cent in years two and three.”

It has also adopted the BeAddictive platform – which links with Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms –  to reward visitors with loyalty points for each action they take, which can be converted to ‘money can’t buy’ gifts, such as lunch with Johnnie Boden, allowing Boden to deliver relevant offers, reviews, and surveys to target groups within the site (provided they have opted in).

Meanwhile, Boden’s catalogue, which is personalised to each customer, scooped a coveted Marketing Week Engage Award in the CRM/ Loyalty category, for driving a near 30% uplift in response. Catalogues are addressed to customers’ first names and come with a fold-out spread unique to each person, based on his or her shopping history and “life story with the brand”.

Such thinking for mail order brands is hardly new. But the resultant fallout between adland and these types of brands will be sure to raise alarm bells moving forward.

As one planner put it to me: “If the brand asks for one thing at pitch and ultimately then decided they’re better off solo, it creates a nightmare situation of animosity and can tarnish a particular sector. The repercussions of this situation will have recurrent effects across niche fashion brands.

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