M&S marketing director Steven Sharp is right in his view that the British have a history of being creative and pioneering, and that the leading ladies in the retailer’s latest TV spot represent just that.

M&S marketing director Steven Sharp is right in his view that the British have a history of being creative and pioneering, and that the leading ladies in the retailer’s latest TV spot represent just that. The past year has been a fantastic one for British women from all industries and to me, the new M&S campaign celebrates just that. We’ve made history with a number of firsts, including the Olympics (Nicola Adams with her Olympic Gold in boxing) and literature (Hilary Mantel with her double Man Booker prize win), to name just two.

Women across the board have played their part in changing society (think of the 30,000 including myself who signed a successful petition to the Bank of England to keep women of note on our banknotes – and fought the Twitter Trolls in the process). M&S’ leading ladies ads capitalise on this at exactly the right moment – just hours into the reveal, and it is causing a stir.

No question that from a brand-building perspective this is absolutely the right strategy for M&S, because it tunes into how women feel right now.

However, the ads are attracting criticism for two reasons: the first is something M&S has little control over - coverage of high profile women, especially those who make a difference and challenge stereotypes, is often controversial. In the case of M&S, it is the inclusion of artist Tracy Emin, patron and supporter of the Turner contemporary art gallery in Margate, which seems to be attracting the wrong sort of attention.

The other reason could be because these ads leave an aftertaste of yet another campaign trying too hard to piggyback on girl power to boost falling fashion sales. One surefire way to address this would be for the retailer to roll out the ‘creative and pioneering’ pillars of its ad campaign from the TV screen and into the shopping experience, both in store and online, to make women everywhere heroines.

The reality is that women look to technology to assist their shopping missions. They’ve overtaken men in online purchases and their decisions now are driven by three key things: Search - what do we need and how do we find it? Shop - the in-store experience; and Social - the interactions we have with other people both in and out of store. As the UK’s biggest retailer, M&S is expertly placed to take these technologies to British women in every high street, to help them shop seamlessly, everywhere and anytime.

Ultimately, it is these real women – those who spend money in its stores rather than those in its ad campaign line-up – who will save M&S. Today we expect our shopping experience to be instant, personal and everywhere– this is the insight through which M&S could bring the promise of its leading ladies ad campaign to everyday women, who are just as pioneering and creative in their own right.

  • Emma Perkins, creative director, Cheil UK