‘Our ads for food and GM are now from the same handwriting’ says M&S CEO Marc Bolland

With M&S returning to profit for the first time in four years, chief executive Marc Bolland said that the upmarket retailer has benefitted from a more cohesive approach to the way it markets both GM and food.

only marks 2014

M&S increased marketing spend by 13.5% for the year to 28 March, as pre-tax profits rose 6.1% to £661.2m, and Bolland believes increased “advertising efficiencies” are helping its turnaround.

Speaking to Marketing Week at a press briefing today (20 May), Bolland said: “Yes, marketing was up last year, but the growth rate was lower than the previous year.

“The key thing isn’t increasing ad spend but the fact we are increasing our advertising efficiencies. There is wider integration in our marketing campaigns for our .com business and we want to change the perception of our brands step-by-step.

“I think for the first time in our history we are talking about all our categories in one campaign. Our food and GM are from the same handwriting and in the year ahead you will see that coming through more and more, with more consistent and emerging worlds in our ads regardless of the products featured.”

Last year, M&S showed evidence of this strategy with a dual-pronged campaign. Autumn ads for food and clothing, which were created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, both sat under the ‘Only M&S’ strapline in order to deliver a more consistent message.

Success on food

Food is fast becoming a jewel in Bolland’s crown, with like-for-like sales up 0.6% and total sales increasing by 3.4% for this latest period.

Bolland said M&S is prospering in food as it has taken a step away from the “difficult” supermarket environment claiming that only 10% of the M&S product range was comparable to the big four supermarkets.

M&S will open a further 90 new Simply Food stores over the next 12 months and introduce 1,700 new food lines.

He added: “I think there’s a clear interest in quality products and not just low prices when it comes to food right now. We aren’t that much more expensive on staple items such as strawberries and those sorts of products are introducing people to the rest of our range.”

And at a time of property write downs among the big four supermarkets, Bolland stressed that M&S opening more food stores wasn’t to “enter a space race, but to have a presence in areas where we are under represented.”

A lot has been made about the slow delivery of the new website M&S has introduced, but Bolland insisted things were going to plan.

Online and fashion

Sales at M&S.com remained in decline for the year to 28 March– with a decline of 2%. However its performance improved throughout the year with sales up 13.8% in Q4.

“I think when we look in hindsight in two or three years from now, when M&S online delivers 40% growth, all of this won’t be a big deal,” he added.

And as M&S continues to address flagging GM sales, which were down 2.5% for the year, Bolland said he would continue to target more exclusive high fashion items, like the well-publicised premium priced suede skirt.

He concluded: “The main thing for us is to catch trends early. Our sales in dresses were up 18% as all our prints were much more on trend.

We sold 500 suede skirts in first 24 hours. This was due to the mix of availability but also keeping it somewhat exclusive. I think that is a good retail practice and these are the types of fashion products we want to target.”

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