THE BLOG
11/11/2013 07:37 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

A Tale of Two Retailers

It is the best of times, if you're John Lewis, it is the worst of times, if you're Marks & Spencer. These two titans of British retail are going through very different experiences. John Lewis continues to grow robustly whereas poor M&S, despite the strength of its food business, desperately needs to turnaround its declining, core clothing business.

As Christmas approaches and the nights draw in, families gather and stories are told. Well, gather round my digital kin and let me draw a scene in your minds of two iconic British brands with the help of two iconic British scribes.

Two retailers, both alike in dignity,

In wintry London, where we lay our scene,

For festive sales targets, break new advertising,

Where creative minds, leave creative egos green.

It is the best of times, if you're John Lewis, it is the worst of times, if you're Marks & Spencer. These two titans of British retail are going through very different experiences. John Lewis continues to grow robustly whereas poor M&S, despite the strength of its food business, desperately needs to turnaround its declining, core clothing business.

In what has become an annual marketing tradition, both have released their Christmas adverts this week, hoping to lure shoppers into their stores.

The ads take strongly different approaches.

John Lewis features a single product in an ad full of emotion and heart-tugging narrative. Meanwhile, M&S sticks just about every last piece of clothing it stocks into a fairy tale fantasy that usefully has a supermodel in her smalls a couple of times.

The way their messages are delivered couldn't be more starkly different but don't for a second believe that one aims to sell and the other is brand building. Both seek to sell, sell, sell.

The difference is that John Lewis is confident in the knowledge that customers like its products. Indeed, the ad's headline characters -- a hare and a bear -- are now products too; you can buy cuddly toy versions of them. So the message is, we know what Christmas is all about and we have the perfect presents for your loved ones. Buy them at John Lewis.

Marks & Spencer, or Magic & Sparkle as it brands itself in the ad, needs to change opinions about its clothing range. A clothing range that has seen sales drop for nine successive quarters. It's not going to do that by saying it's got the right presents for the people you care about. It's got to demonstrate that it actually does have those products because the shoppers don't think it does. So it spends the ad saying, 'Look, this is nice. So is this. And this too. By the way have you seen this?"

Despite the different approaches, both ads are far, far better things that the retailers do, than their competitors have ever done.

NOTE: I apologise profusely to William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens