Why Moss Bros' ad campaign is going big on Proms

As students around the country get ready to mark their GCSEs and A-Levels milestones with US-style prom nights, specialist retailer Moss Bros explains how it is appealing to young shoppers.

Moss Bros, the specialist retailer for men’s suits, is on a mission to become the number one retailer in men’s tailoring.

Once a fusty old heritage retailer, which even Moss Bros agrees was going the way of Woolworths, it now has big ambitions to take on the likes of Marks & Spencer and Next.

Chief operating officer Paula Minowa, who has been in the role for just over a year, is placing her bets on the British adoption of the American school-leaving tradition and a renewed spirit in the retailer’s marketing efforts to make that happen. A new ad campaign called "The Promfather" – a series of short films on select digital channels, inside all 124 stores, as well as bus sides and poster sites – is designed to appeal to what she calls the "Class of ’17". The move marks the first time in more than a decade that the men’s outfitter has invested in paid-media.

Minowa, a former Ann Summers managing director and a former Asda brand director, says: "Moss Bros is a turn-around story, and we’ve been in a period of growth since the beginning of last year. I now need to maximise the potential of the brand and improve the customer journey across all channels and territories. Look out M&S and Next, we are just getting started."

Moss Bros, the third-largest seller of men’s suits in the UK after Marks and Spencer and Next (in terms of volume), embarked on its "turn-around strategy" with its stores’ refurb with a better product ranges and invested heavily into the launch of bespoke services such as ‘Tailor Me’, a premium service to alter suits to fit with different stitching, pockets and fabrics.

The move to shift its focus away from traditional morning suits to a new younger customer is part of this strategic drive. Its most recent financial results, revealed earlier this year, reported a 20.3% increase in its pre-tax profits from £5.9m to £7.1m. Revenues for the year to January were up 5.7% to £127.9m.

L-R: Danks; Minowa; Sotos Georgalli, brand and creative director, Moss Bros; and Caireen Wackett, managing director, Portas.

The integrated campaign, created by Portas agency, to improve consideration amongst younger customers is also aimed at revamping its brand image.

Minowa explained: "The 'Promfather' campaign is about turning up the volume around what we have been doing pretty well as a business. Also, it allowed us to listen harder to what our customers are looking for. The older customers think of us as a hire business and the destination for morning suits and therefore classic but conservative. However the younger shoppers think of us as a place to buy a suit. They are the suit-wearers of the future and we are capturing them right at the beginning of that journey,"

As more young men are choosing to buy a suit rather than hire one, Minowa added, Moss Bros is playing to that rising trend.

To tap into this market, the Portas agency created a Whatsapp group of ten 16- to 18-year-old boys living in Central England, and used them as their ‘expert’ panel.

Portas' head of strategy, Richard Danks explained that the agency started with the assumption that boys going to prom – for whom buying a suit will probably be a first-time experience – would not want to go shopping with their parents.

"What we found instead was that nine out of ten boys want to shop for their first suit with their parents because it is not only a specialist but also a scary purchase," Danks said. "This is what led to the character and nature of the 'Promfather' — someone wise enough with an expert’s eye about what to wear for a night out."

The "Promfather" campaign also includes a competition offering a free chauffeur-driven ride in a Rolls-Royce to young boys making an entrance at the school gates in great style.

The competition is an attempt to reform its "messy database" according to Minowa: "One of our biggest challenges has been data and how we use that for marketing purposes. When kids come in with their parents for a suit fitting, and it is their parents spending the money with us, we have a database of the parents against the slim-fitting ‘younger’ styles. It is all messed up."

Despite this challenge and the added challenges around changing consumer behaviours, harsh economic climate and digital disruption, she remains optimistic for a robust future ahead for the retailer. Minowa, who has been credited with growing Ann Summer’s online strategy and was responsible for the launch of Asda Living, says she has found the retailer’s purpose. "At Ann Summers I learnt how to unleash the sexual confidence in women, and here it is about making men feel amazing."

Video: a ringside view of the Moss Bros ad campaign

Paula Minowa, chief operating officer, Moss Bros; Sotos Georgalli, brand and creative director Moss Bros; Caireen Wackett, managing director, Portas; and Richard Danks, head of strategy, Portas, talk about the "Promfather" campaign and how they are capitalising on the burgeoning school prom trend.