The photographer’s Annie Leibovitz. The models are a mix of successful, inspirational and well-known faces from actress Emma Thompson to Baroness Lawrence, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen.
It’s another expensive and glossy “Leading Ladies” ad campaign from Marks & Spencer, and once again starring a diverse bunch of women across different age groups, appealing to a wide female customer base, but can it turnaround the retailer’s falling general merchandise sales?
Analysts suggest it can’t. The financial results following the previous ad campaign, also shot by Leibovitz, which starred Dame Helen Mirren, artist Tracey Emin and Save the Children International chief executive Jasmine Whitbread, show that like-for-like general merchandise sales, mainly clothing, fell 2.1% in the 13 weeks to December 28. And the ad campaign coincided with the crucially important new direction autumn 13 collection, which focused on bringing in more trend-led and quality pieces.
“Marks & Spencer has invested heavily in their marketing campaigns and it’s not really led to any great uplift in results,” says Honor Westnedge, senior retail analyst at Verdict.
“It’s not really paid off. Yes, it’s another very diverse group in the ad campaign and it crosses every segment and a large customer base but does it really resonate with them? Are customers aspiring to dress like them?”
Despite the drop in general merchandise sales – M&S doesn’t split out womenswear sales over the period – a spokeswoman for the retailer says that the first campaign proved popular with customers.
“Our customer insights teams found that customers loved the campaign. They liked the boldness and the products featured were really popular. Specific items within the campaign sold really well.”
She adds that “top items” featured in the ad campaign enjoyed over an 80% sell through rate, selling 17,500 of the tweed jumpers worn by Dame Helen Mirren while 19,000 of its tartan miniskirts flew off the rails.
Interbrand executive director Liz Engelsen is a fan of the cross section of inspirational women featured in the latest campaign, adding that she “loves their background and how they blend together”. She adds: “It’s good at showcasing individual styles, such as Rita Ora’s which is edgy.”
However, she says she would prefer for the campaign to reallly underline what makes the models an inspirational bunch of women.
“I’d like them to offer advice and tips not just on fashion and styling but how to become an inspirational woman. They need to talk about what makes Rachel Khoo an inspiring chef. There should be a full inside story.”
Rather than pouring millions into its womenswear ad campaigns, Westnedge suggests that Marks & Spencer should focus more heavily on its getting its womenswear products right.
“The campaign shows the key pieces in action…but before they even focus on the ad campaign, Marks & Spencer needs to think about who they are targeting and hone down who they want to target. It’s not going to be a successful ad campaign before they do that.”
The underlining theme from analysts and brand experts is that the retailer really needs to discover who their core Mark & Spencer is and focus on them.
Ashma Kunde, apparel analyst at Euromonitor International says: “I understand where they’re coming from with the best of British-style concept and saying women from all walks of life can wear their products but it’s confusing. It’s quite hard for a brand to be all things. There’s a group of inspiring women but it’s hard to define who their consumer actually is.”
Still, the divisive ad campaign has caught Engelsen’s attention as a consumer. She’s already eyeing up the vest top worn by Rita Ora.
But a glance at the retailer’s Facebook indicates a lot of frustrated customers. One customer Deana Craig posted: “No No No. We don’t need or want leading lady ads etc. We want nice designs, good prices and masses of choice!” [sic] while another, Karen Lowe wrote: “Perhaps the money you could save with celebrity emdorsments would be better spent on your designs and quality? Why not use REAL women to show other REAL women what it looks like on them?”
Marks & Spencer has brought in its own leading lady in style director Belinda Earl who has been rejigging its clothing department, and is spending millions on advertising in order to revive its flagging womenswear department. However, perhaps it’s still in need of a bit of inspiration itself.