M&S on how native advertising can help revive its flagging fashion division 

Cannes Lions: Marks & Spencer says native advertising has “changed its business model” and that it hopes it can help revive its struggling fashion division.

Speaking at a Mail Online panel at the Cannes Lions festival today (21 June), the brand’s global director of loyalty, insight and customer analytics Nathan Ansell said the brand predominantly uses native advertising to promote ranges that it “could not afford to put £2m behind” and that it allows the brand to adopt a different and fun tone of voice.

“Running a piece of native advertising is important as it talks from the publisher’s point of view and not the brand and has an authenticity to it that traditional advertising doesn’t necessarily have – and it’s very shareable,” he said.

Native advertising could also help revive its struggling fashion business. For the 13 weeks to 26 March, M&S reported a 2.7% decline in like-for-like sales in its struggling general merchandise division. This means M&S has seen falling clothing sales in 18 of the last 19 quarters.

Ansell explained how native advertising is “increasingly important” to returning its general merchandise division to growth, and has even led to the brand tweaking its business model.

“Having a top celebrity pictured wearing one of our outfits is a great way of getting that story across to customers which wouldn’t be credible in traditional advertising,” he explained.

“Native advertising has changed the way we do business as well. For example, model Alexa Chung wore a M&S outfit that went viral, so we then ended up engaging her to create a range. So in a way it has changed the way we do business too.”

Knowing your objectives

Native advertising is not suitable for everyone, however. “If you’re asking publishers to create content on your behalf but you’re not clear as a marketer what you want, native won’t work for you. You have to be very clear on your objectives,” said Isabel Massey, head of media and futures at Diageo Europe.

There are also concerns around measuring the effectiveness of native advertising. Massey believes that marketers need to “find new ways of measuring this type of advertising”.

She said: “When you’re measuring ROI, the likes of television is always going to win out. As a marketer your immediate reaction is to put more money behind TV. But it’s not going to work if we continue to do that. While [native advertising] might not pay off in the short term compared to TV, in the long term it will pay off.”