This is Not Just any Marketing Rant, this, is an M&S Rant

Let’s stop for a moment and think about a lovely establishment that even the Irish adore in all it’s middle-class bunting and Britishness, M&S.

Don’t worry, I’ll give you a moment…giphy (1)

What’s the first thing that came to mind?

Warm treacle toffee on piping hot puds?

Two for one deals on your favourite spuds?

Table tops heaving with yum-tastic things?

(All together now) “These are a few of my favourite things!

It’s really hard not to get excited about M&S. I mean the concept of ‘food porn’  is literally in the dictionary, under it. OK, the Urban Dictionary but as marketers, one could argue this dictionary of ‘the people’ is actually the only dictionary that really matters, right?

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 19.43.52

Their ads are award winning. And, far more importantly, consumers actually like them too. In fact, they actively anticipate them and seek them out.

Ask any adman and they’ll tell you, retail clients initially land on an agency’s couch asking for one of two things-  ‘Give me John Lewis‘ or, ‘Make it like M&S‘. Truly, they are the envy of all other poor retail souls – burdened low by last minute discount deals and enslaved by their superior’s unimaginative cross promotions. “Gosh, their lives must be soooo easy right? I mean they are selling magic!

Well, no.

What actually happened is that they put a lot of time and money into building a unique brand proposition, and then created that magic – with sugar, spice and all things nice, and oh, years of sweat blood and tears. And creating magic is a far harder thing to do than selling it – just askey Disney. Not only that, but their proposition (in the Irish market at least) is ‘not just any proposition’ but is one that is totally unique. Their brand positioning is clear and – apart from a few minor storms in teacups – they deliver over and above on the promise of that brand.

Thus, when we think M&S, we automatically think ‘luxury’, we think ‘indulgence’. We think ‘special effort’, ‘special occasion’, ‘special treat’.  Pavlov’s dog probably has nothing on how our mouth water when someone mentions the wafting smell of the cookies. Our festive realities may turn into groggy hangovers, awkward office parties and over stimulated screaming children, but my God, when we dream of Christmas, it’s M&S Christmas.

It is the stuff of dreams – what we deserve. Coca Cola may say they’re all about ‘sharing happiness’ but for M&S, it’s in the very mother dough and it’s baked right in there.

M&S is happiness.

It is, the perfect brand.

Which is why I actually get a bit enraged that it’s actually not.

Because M&S Food has a seemingly unwanted, abandoned troublesome twin – clothing.

As I mentioned before in the post about why Clerys closed, understanding your brand proposition, positioning and strategy are the most important things any brand, organisation or business of any kind can have. They are not touchy-feely marketing concepts that get thrown into sentences to win awards and ensure agencies can charge clients a hefty fee. They are real assets. So real they affect your bottom line. No, forget I said that. They are your bottom line.

So it can be almost enraging to a marketer, that M&S could have this perfect brand positioning all tied up… but rather than applying it across all aspects of the business, it is kept to just food.

This isn’t new news of course, it has been going on for years and years and to me, it’s quite black and white.

Would a woman who went to this party, buy this skirt?

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 22.00.44


Alright, I realise I’m not comparing like for like – one is an advert, the other is a product shot from their website illustrating an ‘ultra comfortable skirt great for everyday style’. But my point is that this ‘everyday’ style is not a style. It’s merely reassuring non-word word for people who don’t just don’t care. A space filler because something is needed and it doesn’t matter, anything will do – just like the items in these imaginary buyers wardrobes.

And therein lies the whole problem.

M&S Food is for people that care what they put in their mouths.

M&S Clothes isn’t for people who really care what they put on their backs.

Or at least, it isn’t trying to be. I not criticising every product. And personally there are some staple gems from M&S I really love – the work trench coat, the cashmere jumper, the pjs… It’s just doesn’t fit all fit together in one neat puzzle. And where M&S clothes as a proposition just gets rather… lost.

And I don’t except that food is a universal activity whereas fashion is segmented by age, upbringing and a thousand other tiny things that make us unique. Because luxury, excitement, indulgence and style is for everyone and M&S clothing has none of those things.

The funny thing is that the only one cog that needs fixing are the products themselves. The ads are perfect. The marketing is pretty good too. I absolutely adored the ‘leading ladies’ campaign by the Annie Leibovitz – arguably one of the greatest ‘fantasy’ fashion photographers of all time.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 21.45.59

But that’s just what she created – a fantasy. The mere existence of what I presume is their most expensive clothing campaign of all time, is proof of just how serious the issue of clothing sales had got. The campaign itself was perfect. Unfortunately however, remove the magic touch of Leibovitz (who can make even Kimye disturbingly engaging), as in this ‘behind the scenes’ shot, and what do you have?

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 21.46.54

A bunch of fantastic inspiring women in probably the most unremarkable outfits they’ve ever worn.

If M&S wants to fix their sales problems, they need to get their clothing on brand.



it seems in the middle of writing this, it’s emerged that Mr. Dixon – head of fashion for Marks and Spencers – has resigned.

It seems the company had reverted back into its depressing loss of revenue over the 3 months after one minor positive ‘blip’ in sales and that was it appears, the point at which he threw up his hands.

Head of Food is rumoured to take his place.

Given that that is the exact position from which Dixon himself moved 3 years ago, I would hazard a guess that either

a) He hadn’t got the acumen for fashion buying as he had for food (but I highly doubt that, because the solution in that scenario is to just surround yourself in people that do) or, much more likely,

b) He hands were firmly tied by more senior management regarding product.

In which case Mr. Rowe isn’t going to have much luck either.

Because a ‘brand’ isn’t just a logo, or a style of marketing, or even how you treat your customers… ‘Brand’ needs to be baked into the bread and stitched into the lining. 


If you are feeling particularly nice, please nominate for this blog in the Irish Blog Awards.

Image by Richard on Flickr Creative Commons

These are my personal opinions and do not represent those of my employer.


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