Friday, 1 April 2011

Marks and Spencer: Marmite or Ratners? » Martyn Stead


Marmite
Marks and Spencer have launched their new spring ad campaign which features Jamie Redknapp and friends getting soaked by sprinklers, and ending with the strapline “Utterly Repellent Menswear”. (See here).
It’s a brave thing to do, but is it wise?

M&S will no doubt hope to catch the imagination of the public rather in the way that Marmite did with their campaigns over the last two years – but there are key differences. The advertisements for Marmite were humorous, unlike the M&S one, and they never suggested that their product was bad, only that it divided opinion into people who loved it and people who hated it.

Indeed, so successful was this campaign that it has entered common language; “It’s a Marmite sort of thing” meaning something that polarises opinion. I last heard it used by someone who said that Margaret Thatcher was like Marmite.

Compare with Gerald Ratner who famously destroyed his company with a throwaway remark which ironically featured Marks and Spencer when he said that the earrings he sold were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long” . Like Marmite, he also entered everyday language. As Wikipedia puts it Today, Ratner’s speech is still famous in the corporate world as an example of the value of branding and image over quality. Such gaffes are now sometimes called “Doing a Ratner”

My problem with the M&S ad campaign is that using a risky strapline like “Utterly Repellent Rainwear” might well work, but to link it to all their Menswear range is incredibly dangerous – if I was thinking of buying a raincoat I might well like the ad, but if I’m looking to buy shirts, a tie or a suit, do I really want the word “Repellent” to come to mind?

So what do you think? Have M&S hit the target, or have they shot themselves in the foot?
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