Will being more like everyone else really make M&S special again?

Will being more like everyone else really make M&S special again?

M&S Food have recently undergone a number of changes. These included the brand’s first ever TV sponsorship deal with Britain’s Got Talent, a partnership with LADbible and a family-twist on their classic TV ad. All of which play a part in their new strategy to be more accessible to value-conscious families – “to make M&S special again” by stepping away from their premium positioning.

M&S’ desire to broaden their appeal beyond their core base is the result of the brand’s tumbling sales. M&S Food found 2018 to be particularly challenging; from February to the end of September, food sales were down 2.9%.

In theory, this idea seems relatively simple. Speak to more people and a greater number of consumers will think of you the next time they do their weekly shop. By sponsoring Britain’s Got Talent, M&S will vastly increase salience with this new audience, and potentially boost consideration by appearing more accessible. But what will this cost the brand long-term?


Why distance yourself from what you’ve become famous for?

Over the years, M&S have carved out a desirable position for themselves in the market, one that realistically, most of their competitors would struggle to truly compete with. M&S Food is famous for their promise of top of the range quality and flavour.

The greatest challenge the brand now faces is that they are at risk of losing their distinctiveness by trying to compete with value-driven supermarkets.

If M&S were able win over this new audience without compromising their position, they could potentially be in an even stronger place than before. The fragile balance of accessibility while retaining their premium positioning relies on the careful crafting of the execution.

However, M&S ads for Britain’s Got Talent make it feel like they’ve deliberately diluted their premium-ness. Animated and talking condiments, a light-hearted tone of voice, and an overall feel that could easily fit in with any mid-range supermarket – this makes the brand feel more accessible, but at the same time, appears to erode the brand’s unique claim of quality and luxury.

It’s a big risk for M&S Food to chase ‘a bit less premium’ positioning, largely because of the loss of distinctiveness. Not only will it look like a watered-down version of their current positioning, their customers won’t necessarily know what the brand stands for anymore. And in the mind of the consumer, where does this now position M&S compared to the rest of the market?


A fresh execution

M&S have led the charge in how brands convey premium-ness in the food category, and to some extent; they are victims of their own success. Now, everyone tries to do what they do. For instance, Aldi’s ‘Thick and creamy Indonesian coconut and pineapple luxury yoghurt’ could easily feel at home on M&S shelves. But because of this, M&S’ approach now feels a little tired, and no longer gives consumers a compelling reason to choose them over others.

So, instead of being less distinctive, why not look for new and exciting ways of conveying premium? If perhaps, their new communications were able to land this, they may be on to something. Sadly, we’re not entirely convinced that the current execution of their brand has achieved this.

Being more like everyone else will never make M&S special again. Surely this approach is bound to have some sort of negative long-term impact on the brand, despite a potential short-term uplift in sales. However, if they were to refocus themselves to defend their unique space in the market with a fresh execution of what it means to be premium, they may just lead the charge once more.

At Ponderosa, we put strategy and planning at the heart of everything we do. If you need help making your brand more distinctive, get in touch.


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