A Tale Of Two Brands
From the comfort afforded by a new pair of roomy slacks, The Blogfather compares the contrasting fortunes of two heritage behemoths of the British retail industry.
If you say 'M&S clothes', I think a beige, no man's trouser land of meh.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Amongst some curious stories this week, namely McDonald's suing the city of Florence, and public outcry over the increase in the gap between segments of Toblerone, there was one that made me ponder wistfully.
Marks & Spencer is to close 30 stores, whilst converting 45 others into food-only shops as part of a major overhaul that will slash the amount of shop floor space dedicated to its clothing ranges. M&S is a curious brand, almost with two identities. If you say 'M&S food' I think; as good as the high street gets. If you say 'M&S clothes', I think a beige, no man's trouser land of meh. They occupy a vacuous, barren brand real estate between the likes of Primark, H&M and Zara, and the more high end fashion designers like Alexander McQueen.
By way of making the point, The Blogfather bought some new slacks a few weeks ago. Sensing your fascinated curiosity, I'll tell you more. This isn't the first time The Blogfather has talked slacks, not by a long chalk, but anyway, I wanted some affordable, loose fitting slacks that did not turn heads for being too fashionable, yet neither have people exclaim 'What the Dickens are those monstrosities?!' as I strut across town. So I went to M&S for said slacks. It was a right non event of a purchase, for middle of the road slacks, and M&S fitted the bill perfectly. Whilst there, all the fixtures and fittings looked tired, and the most remarkable thing I remember was that the shop attendant was incongruous for his wearing of significantly better fitting, quality trousers than any that were languidly hanging from the rails trying to flog themselves.
(The Alexa Chung range) features an item of clothing that people have gone nuts for...
To be fair to M&S they have made some good advances with the clothing part of the business recently, most notably by having a collection curated by the style icon Alexa Chung. It features an item of clothing that people have gone nuts for on Instagram, and has thus promptly sold out everywhere. Maybe here is a key to future success; cut out the mass of mediocrity and go more niche and high end.
The new chief executive, Steve Rowe, has been put on the defensive, denying that they are on the same slippery slope as BHS. It does seem like an astute move, to start shifting the focus of the business to food, as that is such a strong arm of the business that it has nigh on become the brand on its own. We are all familiar with those lavishly produced M&S food adverts. Maybe in the near future they will be ruling the Christmas ad roost.
But that is not likely to be anytime soon. That crown is most certainly with John Lewis currently. The ad isn't even out yet and I'm already talking about it. Why is that? Well, there were two interesting observations this week.
The first was from Aldi. Not content with parodying the advert (which they did last year), they are now parodying the hype itself, by releasing #KevinTheCarrot teaser material that got social and main-stream media talking and speculating that the new John Lewis advert would be based around a protagonist carrot character. Aldi's marketing is second to none, and they can be seen as the kings of parody. No wonder they have eaten chunks out of their competitors' market share. A bit of humour and strategy can go a long way, but they've gone even further, as they have produced their own piece of story-telling content in the form of the below advert which is not too shabby at all. They are even releasing Kevin the Carrot as a cuddly toy that can be purchased, echoing the John Lewis penguin that flew off the shelves a few years ago. It's amazing to think how far Aldi have come. They are now starting to reposition themselves as a more quality supermarket chain. Time will tell if they fully succeed.
The John Lewis Christmas ad phenomenon has become so huge it is akin to awaiting for the Christmas blockbuster movie to come out.
The other thing of interest was the release of what seem to be teaser trailers by John Lewis for the advert itself. 10 second sequences of a boxer dog watching a child bounce. This got the hashtag #BounceBounce trending. The John Lewis Christmas ad phenomenon has become so huge it is akin to awaiting for the Christmas blockbuster movie to come out. Impressive.
To market successfully around the anticipation of something whose form is unknown whilst harnessing the speculative power of social media is a) very clever and b) indicative of how merely making an advert is not enough any more, well not if you want to achieve great engagement and reach a larger audience. Anticipation is often the most exciting element to the release of something new, and John Lewis and Aldi have jumped on this.
So, whatever form the 2016 John Lewis Christmas advert takes when it drops very soon, one thing's for sure; everyone will, yet again, be talking about it.