Editorial: French Connection can learn from M&S success

How times change. It seems only a moment ago that French Connection was the darling of the retail sector, a nimble player that could run rings around a staid old has-been such as Marks & Spencer. Now the roles seem to have reversed.

At M&S, a vastly improved product range promoted via stylish and consistent brand advertising resulted in a 35 per cent profits leap to £751 million last year. The contrast with French Connection could hardly be more stark. It has suffered a miserable year in which its profits have more than halved as shoppers have grown tired of the brand.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the company is looking for a quick fix by hiring the specialist retail agency Yellow Door to work in tandem with Beattie McGuinness Bungay, which handles its brand advertising. While French Connection's need for rapid improvement in its fortunes is understandable, it would be short-sighted were it to turn its back on the iconic advertising its fortune has been built on.

Time was when M&S felt no need to promote its brand, arguing its presence on every major high street obviated the need for it. The dramatic decline in its fortunes forced a major change in tactics. The lesson ought not to be lost on French Connection. While it may be well-known for racy, often controversial campaigns, its advertising presence has been inconsistent.

Indeed, it has a reputation for giving advertising support to a new season's range only if it thinks that range will sell well. Advertising that is ubiquitous one moment and almost non-existent the next smacks of a company with no strategy. The transformed M&S makes a powerful argument for always supporting launches with good advertising that conforms to a consistent theme.

Of course, there is no reason why advertising whose role is just to shift product should not happily co-exist alongside campaigns whose purpose is to build brands. Benetton has successfully managed to strike such a balance over two decades. The trick is in making sure the balance is right.

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