Further to articles about Marks & Spencer that appeared in Design Week, I would like to put forward a view that seems not to concur with the common currency.
Commentators have put forward their views on the state of this retail institution and the remedies for this “strong brand”. It seems to me, however, that Marks & Spencer had always been successful for the very simple reason that it was not a brand in the modern sense of the word. Indeed, it has always been the very antithesis of a brand.
Built on providing items of middle class necessity rather than objects of aspiration, Marks & Spencer had always delivered no-frills reliability to the generations becoming more comfortable with consumer affluence. In the Sixties and Seventies, shopping started to become more of a leisure activity and advertising and marketing began to control tastes.
Although the British middle class were happily spending more, they still felt that there might be something dirty about the whole consumer age and the concept of aspiration, and so flocked to the place that embodied the neutral ground.
The children of the baby-boomers (like me) are the first generation to have felt truly comfortable with the branded and packaged world, as we have not known any different. We did not see Nike and Calvin Klein as threatening or over-glamorous – we began to see them as belonging to our era. Rather than seeking out quality and value, this generation expects quality and value and almost takes it for granted.
People have grown up with the proliferation of brands and the individuality that they are perceived to offer. Marks & Spencer’s territory has been devoured – by demographics as much as by narrow-minded management.
It would seem that Marks & Spencer’s management and many casual observers still seem to believe that the brand was the company’s strength. I strongly believe that it was the lack of what people would understand to be a brand that made the company successful.
The ultimate anti-hero needs to wake up to a world that operates by different rules. Nike, Calvin Klein and Gap are mainstream names bought for positive reasons rather than out of habit, apathy or convenience. The British middle class is now used to being inspired and excited – it is time that Marks & Spencer started to reflect this consumer again.