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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is there a future in Marks and Spencer's dreaming?

My parents believed in a few key things: family, arithmetic, the benefits of fresh air, the enduring value of Marks & Spencer.

They would talk about M&S a lot. They praised the things it did right. They averted their eyes from the few things it did poorly in the belief the company should be left to mend its ways in private.

Growing up I absorbed the idea whatever else might change M&S would be here forever. In the last couple of years I've changed my mind.

There are many reasons to raise an eyebrow at the latest instalment of their "Leading Ladies" marketing campaign: from the idea that you spend money on a celebrity photographer like Annie Leibowitz ten years after the end of the era of the celebrity photographer through the painful over-thinking apparent in the casting of the women to the striving for a quality of nobility in the pictures.

But more dismaying than that is the belief that what they need to do is burnish their brand when they should be improving their offer. I was talking to a distinguished magazine editor the other day, somebody who's whole career has been spent in the world of prestige brands, and he said this: "As far as my kids are concerned, brands have had their day. They just want a quality product at the right price."

Last time I went shopping for an item of clothing in Marks and Spencer I went to their biggest store with the actual serial number of the thing I wanted. The assistant tried to be helpful but she couldn't find the thing in stock. The reason she couldn't find it is because she didn't know which sub-brand to look under. That problem was entirely of the company's own making. I left and ordered it on line. It took three days. I don't think you can do business like that any longer.