Over £18 million: the reward for failure. Nice work if you can get it – but you can’t

Year after year Marks and Spencer fails. Their ads give you a clue. Their marketers haven’t got one. Why?

60 odd years ago I applied for a trainee’s  job at Mark & Spencer – at that time and for long after a safe first step on the road to success.

I wasn’t chosen – just as well, as with my fatal inattention to detail I would have been a failure.

Mind you, not as spectacular or costly a failure as Marc Bolland.

Bolland spent 6 years trying to resuscitate the firm – and failed.  I guess he’s not that bothered, though. By the end of this year (he’s currently being paid for doing nothing) he will have had about £18 million for his efforts.

Yesterday I went into M & S in Bristol and noticed what I am pretty sure is a chief reason why he and they have failed at everything except selling food.

Not a single person in there looked even remotely like the trendy models they’ve been featuring year after year.

The person who’s been taking the pictures is one of the world’s most famous (and expensive) photographers: Annie Leibowitz.

I wonder how much time that lady spent looking to see who actually shops in M & S. I wonder how often the grossly over-rewarded Mr. Bolland did. I wonder if the clever young marketers who commissioned the ads did.

If they did, would they have seen any cool bearded young men in there? The kind they were using in their online ads not long ago – and their female equivalents.

I wonder if – as I did in my first copy job for a retailer  –  they watched the Monday sales like a hawk to see of my weekend ads had worked. I suspect they were too busy having meetings and talking guff about social media, strategy and content to do something so fucking obvious.

In fact I wonder if they have the vaguest idea what they’re doing.

You can’t sell to the customers you want but don’t have. You have to sell to the ones you’ve got. Get out there and watch them.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But as I once heard my friend the late Mani Ayer – one of the smartest people I ever met, and much admired by David Ogilvy – say: the obvious is always overlooked.

A footnote about Trump & Corbyn. When ordinary folk see people like Bolland and their U.S. equivalents obscenely rewarded for failure whilst their own wages and savings lose value, what do they do? They turn to extremists on left and right who promise simple – but infeasible – solutions

About the Author

Drayton

In 2003, the Chartered Institute of Marketing named Drayton one of 50 living individuals who have shaped today’s marketing.

He has worked in 55 countries with many of the world’s greatest brands. These include American Express, Audi, Bentley, British Airways, Cisco, Columbia Business School, Deutsche Post, Ford, IBM, McKinsey, Mercedes, Microsoft, Nestle, Philips, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Unilever, Visa and Volkswagen.

Drayton has helped sell everything from Airbus planes to Peppa Pig. His book, Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, out in 17 languages, has been the UK’s best seller on the subject every year since 1982. He has also run his own businesses in the U.K., Portugal and Malaysia.

He was a main board member of the Ogilvy Group, a founding member of the Superbrands Organisation one of the first eight Honorary Fellows of the Institute of Direct Marketing and one of the first three people named to the Hall of Fame of the Direct Marketing Association of India. He has also been given Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Caples Organisation in New York and Early To Rise in Florida.

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