Marks & Spencer (M&S) will promote a “shared attitude” that connects with consumers regardless of age or demographic in a bid to promote itself as an “inclusive brand”.
Global brand and marketing director Rob Weston believes M&S needs to express its values of inclusivity, quality and sustainability, which he admits have not always been clearly communicated in the past.
“Moving forward we want to make sure we have a single front door to the brand. We want to have a shared philosophy across all our business units,” he explains.
“We want to make sure that we don’t lose sight of who we are and what we do, whatever the external economic or political environment might throw at us. Having that North Star is really important.”
Speaking to Marketing Week at Advertising Week Europe yesterday (22 March), Weston explains the philosophy is based on the idea that life is too short to compromise on your ethics, an attitude he believes M&S shares with its customers.
However, the goal of creating a brand that appeals to a 33-million strong customer base is both a challenge and responsibility. “I feel a huge responsibility looking after the brand. What’s interesting from our situation is that as a marketer you can sometimes feel damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he reflects.
“If you use a younger model we get a lot of comments on social media saying ‘you’ve forgotten us, you’re chasing a younger audience’. Then if we use an older model people go ‘you’re reinforcing your mumsy image, we don’t want you either’. That’s a very hard place to break and the answer is attitude.”
Weston sees Marks & Spencer’s Christmas 2016 advert, featuring the glamorous Mrs Claus, as a real turning point in terms of creating a story that resonated with consumers regardless of age. This is something M&S had been looking to tap into for some time, he explains.
“It was a lovely story and it engaged on so many levels. It was not because she was 50 plus, it was because she was modern, sassy and caring, which is a good example of our attitudes and values. A little girl and a grandma can watch the film and get something out of it.”
Tapping into culture
The next campaign, set to air in couple of months, will be focused on empowerment and attitude, rather than adhering to strict demographics. The idea is to recognise that age is important, but to move the conversation along. Weston argues that while brands should never be shy about featuring people of any age, consumers ultimately want brands to be age agnostic.
Part of the challenge of branding is simplifying. We’re quite a complicated business, so we’ve done a lot of work internally to remind us what M&S stands for.
Rob Weston, M&S
“Empowerment is big part of what we’re doing and a key thing is reminding people what we do have in common and what makes M&S relevant. We then want to bring that into words and pictures, and a simple brand promise,” he explains.
“Part of the challenge of branding is simplifying. We’re quite a complicated business, so we’ve done a lot of work internally to remind us what M&S stands for and what is it that joins all of these businesses together in terms of a shared philosophy.”
The campaign will be the first by Grey London, which won the £60m creative advertising and digital account in August, after M&S severed its 16-year relationship with RKCR/Y&R. Speaking on the same panel as Weston during Advertising Week Europe, Grey London executive creative director Vicki Maguire agreed that the Mrs Claus campaign showed M&S at its best.
“It was when it got out of retail and played into culture. That is when M&S is at its best, when it comes out of a fight with other retailers, starts to play into culture and has a message,” said Maguire.
“For me it was all there. It’s not about tempting people in or reawakening the giant, [the new campaign] is a reminder that actually there is an attitude shared by Marks & Spencer and the population. I was very conscious that we’re not dealing with a retailer, we’re dealing with an icon and a brand that people want to exist.”
Meeting the diversity challenge
When it comes to the inclusivity of its internal teams, Weston believes that while the M&S marketing team is diverse, more could definitely be done.
“We need to find ways of making it easier to pull people in at various different levels. That’s not just gender and age, it’s having a really brilliant melting pot so different ideas are represented,” he explains.
From an agency perspective M&S deliberately seeks out diverse teams. Weston admits to at times finding it unsettling when 20-year-olds on the agency side are talking about topics that do not necessarily always resonate with them.
“We need to know that we can connect with audiences outside Shoreditch and Hoxton. Really interesting and novel ideas come from a melting pot team and people who have been able to have that experience,” Weston adds.
“There is that tendency if you have completely young teams to be edgy and we just need to make sure that’s balanced and that we represent the country as a whole. We are a mass-market brand and therefore we need to make sure we represent people across the board. So the message is diversity and not being focused on a specific age group.”