Marks & Spencer: sausage and sizzle really works

Last week Marks & Spencer (M&S) and its agency RKCR/Y&R won the coveted Grand Prix at the IPA Advertising Effectiveness Awards. You only have to go back to 2004 when the UK retailer was in real trouble and almost got taken over, but it has come back in force, with full-year profits to April 2006 up from £505.5m to £745.7m. The only problem they have had is keeping up with demand for the products they have featured:

  • there was a national stampede on hot chocolate puddings – sales increased by 288% following the infamous advert
  • Sales
    of pannacotta saw the greatest increase of 1207%, sales of roast
    potatoes increased by 454%, basil pesto sales increased by 367%

The communication campaigns for food, clothes and lingerie that drove the sales growth and won the prize are great examples of "sausage and sizzle" working in perfect harmony, and offer some useful lessons for brand building:

  1. Start with a great product: in each case M&S had a fantastic product to promote. The chocolate puddings were to die for. And they got top designers to create the clothing ranges. George Davies, the founder of Next, designed the Per Una range for women. And on menswear they even have suits designed by Saville Rowe tailor to the stars, Timothy Everest
  2. Add sex appeal and sizzle: the ads all do one main job brilliantly, which is give the products sex appeal. The food adverts have been called "food porn", for the way they linger over oozing chocolate and dripping butter. The mens clothing range used pop icon Brian Ferry and photographer David Bailey
  3. Create brand properties: each product campaign has a series of executional equities that help recognition and impact. So, for food you have i) the same music, ii) the same sultry voice-over, iii) the style of filming, iv) the endline: "This is not just food. This is M&S food." And the womens clothing ads have used the same stars, 60’s star Twiggie and fellow model Erin O’Connor, plus a trademark filmic style (If you’re reading the email update,  to view the advert below click on the title at the top of this post to go the blog)

The editor of ad-mag Campaign, Claire Beale, summed up the M&S work perfectly in the Independent: "These ads haven’t troubled creative juries much. But they’ve sold puddings, pants and party dresses. Job done and so with the creative cliques think." If only they’re were more people like Claire working in the ad agencies themselves.

5-minute workout: take your latest communication, and do the M&S test on it. Do you have a fantastic product? Are you then adding sizzle and sex appeal to it? And what executional equities are you creating to boost impact and recall?

P.S. you know you have the competition worried when they resort to doing spoofs of your communication. This one is very funny though, and apparently done by the ASDA/Walmart marketing director!