GREAT BRITISH BRANDS: Marks & Spencer - Perhaps the Best-Known High Street Name in the UK, Marks & Spencer's Recent Travails Seem to Be at an End

Marketing, August 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

GREAT BRITISH BRANDS: Marks & Spencer - Perhaps the Best-Known High Street Name in the UK, Marks & Spencer's Recent Travails Seem to Be at an End


The story of Marks & Spencer is a commercial rollercoaster of epic proportions. From humble market stall to respected bastion of the British high street to scourge of the business pages, the latest twist has M&S clawing its way back into the hearts of the City and shoppers.

Marks & Spencer grew from a market stall to a clothing store in the first years of the 20th century. The retailer's speedy growth led to its flotation in 1926 and the launch of its own label brand, St Michael, the following year.

The years between the wars were a period of heady growth for M&S. The flagship Marble Arch store was opened in 1930, with the first store food department a year later. In 1948, retail history was made when M&S opened the first self-service store, in London's Wood Green.

By the 1970s, the Marks & Spencer brand looked virtually unassailable, having become an intrinsic part of British life. It had also started to grow overseas, opening stores in Paris and Brussels in 1975. International expansion really took off in 1988 - the company opened an M&S store in Hong Kong and bought Brooks Brothers, a US clothing chain, and Kings supermarkets, also in the US.

It was the first food retailer to sell ready meals and had its labels in just about every woman's underwear drawer. But the early 1990s saw it getting a little too ambitious, trying to shift the brand into the more fashionable clothing territory claimed by Top Shop and Miss Selfridge at the same time as fending off competition from the likes of Gap. For a while it succeeded, but by 1998, when bad trading figures signalled the start of its slide, the rot had set in.

M&S had become arrogant and complacent and slowly but surely shoppers had found alternatives. By the time it woke up to its problems, they had become a crisis. After a very public boardroom battle for control of the company, new chairman Luc Vandevelde started the turnaround by getting back to basics. Plans were set in motion to shut overseas branches and sell the interests in the US.

After so many years managing with only minimal marketing, it was realised that advertising was needed. M&S' first TV ads, created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R in September 2000 created a stir. They featured a size-16 woman running around yelling 'I'm normal' - it was an attempt to get back in touch with M&S' traditional core market, the 35- to 45-year-old woman. A new slogan was introduced - 'Exclusively for Everyone' - and a corporate identity redesign saw the end of the gold on green look. …

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