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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 12:36 GMT
Streaker ad fails to halt slide
M&S logo and advertising image
A 'size 16' model streaking across a hillside shouting 'I'm normal' grabbed headlines for troubled retailer Marks and Spencer last autumn.

But if the retailer was hoping its first foray into TV advertising was going to reverse the long-term decline in its fortunes, Tuesday's December trading figures will have brought it back down to earth with a big bump.

Overall sales for the December period were down 5.1%, with the biggest slump coming in adult clothing.

Despite the streaker's best efforts, the revitalisation of the M&S brand is clearly going to be a marathon and not a sprint.

In advertising terms, M&S is a complicated brief. It carries a lot of cultural baggage.

Funky, youth-oriented

Although people trust the brand, it is seen as unfashionable and, for a new generation of consumers, it is seen as belonging to their parents' era.

M&S's ad agency Rainey Kelley/Y&R, which landed the account last year, has wisely avoided clumsy attempts to instantly re-invent M&S as a funky, youth-oriented brand.

It has aimed instead for a witty, but down-to-earth appeal to M&S's core market.

According to ad chief MT Rainey, M&S wanted to marry deep-rooted feelings of warmth towards the brand with a sense of fun, subtly stripping the store of its stuffy image.

Although the 'streaker' ad grabbed headlines, the bulk of the 20m campaign simply concentrated on telling customers what was new instore.

But the strapline for the press and poster campaign - 'exclusively for everyone' - attracted some criticism for its catch-all approach.

Some observers believed the retailer was trying to be all things to all people.

Late convert

M&S is a late convert to the black art of marketing.

Until recently it relied on its firmly-established place in the national psyche and its prominent position on every High Street to do the hard work.

It did not even have a standalone marketing department until 1999.

And - uniquely among major consumer brands - it had never felt the need to invest in a large scale generic advertising campaign.

The company's first board-level marketing director, Alan McWalter, hired in 1999 from Woolworths, will be studying the latest set of results with more than a passing interest.

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