M&S’s marketing boss on bringing a ‘cultural point of view’ to the retailer

Speaking around the launch of its ‘Spend It Well’ campaign, M&S’s marketing boss says the new direction represents a more confident business.


Marks & Spencer has unveiled its first work under new creative agency Grey London, with the slogan ‘Spend It Well’ replacing ‘Only M&S’ and an emotive TV ad designed to resonate across the generations.

It’s a big change for the retailer and comes a year after it appointed a new CEO in Steve Rowe and promoted marketing boss Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne to a new role as executive director of customer, marketing and M&S.com.

M&S has struggled in recent years, with its clothing business in particular losing some of its allure and posting a series of sales declines. However, it has started 2017 in more positive territory with sales at its clothing and homeware division up 2.3%; the first rise in general merchandise sales in more than two years. Food sales at M&S were also up by 0.6%, impressive given the intense competition in the grocery market.

It has also made the headlines recently due to an imminent online home groceries trial, possibly with Ocado as a partner, that would see it take on the big four supermarkets and Amazon Fresh.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Bousquet-Chavanne says the new ‘Spend it Well’ campaign is proof the business now has a much more switched-on cultural message. He also discusses its ongoing disagreement with Google, merging its digital and marketing divisions, and whether ‘Spend It Well’ is meant as a post-Brexit message.

How did you arrive at the new ‘Spend It Well’ message?

We try to speak to thousands of customers every week and we wanted to find one commonality that ties them all together, regardless of age or gender. What we found is that every M&S customer acknowledges life is short and that you have to spend the time you do get here on great experiences.

It will completely replace ‘Only M&S’ because that old slogan just didn’t have the motivational or call-to-action qualities that ‘Spend It Well’ does. We now have a shared set of values with [creative agency] Grey London and I think that shows with the quality of the work.

READ MORE: M&S targets attitude not age to rebuild fashion business

Is Spend It Well meant as a Brexit message?

Yes, it is happening in the context of Brexit, but it isn’t a Brexit message. It’s more of an acknowledgement that we’ve all turned into impatient creatures. Life is about swiping left or right on cell phone all the time; it’s a culture of impatience. Therefore, there was a need for M&S to have more of a cultural point-of-view.

We think there’s an opportunity to say lets slow down and focus on quality experiences. I believe marketing is at its very best when it is taking a more-timely attitude towards commenting on society.

The campaign debuted on Twitter, is digital now the most important advertising channel for M&S?

Obviously, digital channels are growing much faster than traditional channels right now. When I joined over four years ago, our percentage split for ad spend for digital was in low single digits. It is now a high double-digit penetration.

All indications from our consumers show we’re doing the right things and momentum is returning.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, M&S

We premiered the new campaign on Twitter because we wanted it to be the first thing in people’s feeds when they woke up. Digital is the best way to really powerfully start a conversation and probably the most potent channel we have.

Do you have concerns around digital, especially after pulling spend from YouTube?

We are not going back [to Google or YouTube] until they have basically confirmed and solidified the guarantees and protection that are required not just for our brand but many others too. There is rightfully still a lot of sensitivity in the marketing community around Google and The Times investigation. Google is progressing nicely with their changes, but they are not quite there yet. There is clearly still a little bit of ground they need to cover.

READ MORE: Ritson: The brand safety scandal is no one’s fault but Google’s

You were promoted a year ago, how are you finding the expanded marketing role?

It’s clear marketing is a pivotal function and revenue driver for M&S, the fact I am a board member tells you how important it is. My role means managing customers as well as online and marketing, and that’s important. I believe bringing the digital and marketing functions together demonstrates the fact digital is no longer just a pure trading channel. My ultimate goal is for M&S to be seen as contemporary and current, and to be loved once again by the British public.

Has momentum returned to your fashion business and is [new GM boss] Gill McDonald inheriting a strong business?

I think we are on the right track, yes. All indications from consumers show we are doing the right things and that momentum is returning. There are still challenging waters with GM and fashion as we know 100% of the growth is coming from online – that’s just the nature of the retail clothing environment in 2017. So we see a lot of growth opportunities for fashion in the online space and will have to now innovate accordingly.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director of customer, marketing and online at M&S

It is fair to say the retail environment continues to be challenging, but we have taken some very clear action over the last 12 months. Our full price market share is up for the first time in multiple years, so that’s encouraging. I just want to see the consumer funnel getting stronger. The fact Sparks just hit six million members is very important as it proves we have a very engaged multi-channel shopper. It proves that the digital and offline worlds do not need to compete with one another.

With M&S clothing appealing less to younger consumers, is trying to appeal to everybody really the answer? 

The new ad appeals to all generations because that is what we need. Age is no longer a differentiator and shared beliefs are the key. We did weekly consumer groups when developing this new campaign and the emotional response when we discussed the shortness of life was unbelievable. The test groups acknowledged that time is precious whether they were 25 or 55, so that gives me faith this is the right strategy.

Will food and fashion continue to appear together in your advertising?

There is only one M&S and I believe having one brand unites everything and anything we do as business. There must be one entry door way, whether you buy food on the move, buy beauty, clothing or bank with us, because as soon as you give us your hand, you enter a world with a specific set of values. [Bringing food and fashion together] will apply between now and Christmas across all channels, and with intensity and consistency.