Marks & Spencer

Having spent the last few years, bringing the advertising for its two businesses – clothing and home, and food – together, Marks & Spencer has, in one management reshuffle, shifted strategy quite dramatically.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, the marketing boss for the last six years, is out, as is marketing director for consumer and brand Rob Weston. And they will not be replaced. Instead, responsibility for marketing passes to each department under the leadership of Sharry Crammond in food and Nathan Ansell in clothing and home.

Bousquet-Chavanne and Weston join a long (and growing) list of executives to be unceremoniously dumped under new chairman Archie Norman and CEO Steve Rowe. And it is hard not to jump to the conclusion that Norman – well known for his no-frills approach – sees advertising as a cost that can be cut. Marketing no longer has a place on the board, and it would be no great surprise under these circumstances to see advertising spend decline.

This shift in strategy might be a good thing. The hope was that bringing its advertising together under one message would provide a halo effect across the business; suddenly people who had never shopped in clothing would be buying skirts and jumpers, while those at home in the bed section would drift over and start buying lunch and dinner.

Yet this doesn’t appear to have happened. Over the Christmas sales quarter, like-for-like food sales fell by 0.4%, while general merchandise sales fell 2.8%. Total UK sales were up by just 1.1%.

And while the retailer faces a range of challenges – from the shift to online shopping to pressures on consumer spending – its brand strength is not one of them. Its marketing investment has, for the most part, focused on its brand but when there are more pressing issues that seems like an error.

M&S’s brand strength

The strength of the M&S brand is clear from YouGov BrandIndex. It measures M&S in three separate categories – food, high street retail and high street fashion – and across all of those it is the number one brand in terms of its overall index measure (which takes into account a range of metrics including quality, value and satisfaction). And it comes top in almost every metric, beating competition including John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, Next and Debenhams.

Brand Finance’s brand valuation of M&S also shows the brand itself remains strong. In 2018, it was worth $3.8bn to M&S; and while this is down from $4.2bn the year before and around $4.5bn in 2007 it is not where the real problem lies. That is…