CEO Jon Sharpe reflects on the 16 year-long relationship between M&S and RKCR/Y&R
The ending of our 16-year relationship with Marks & Spencer brings an era to a close. Together we started a whole new genre in retail advertising. Not many brand partnerships can boast that.
The length of the client/agency relationship means the old marriage analogy certainly holds true. And we've learnt the healthiest ones require consistent effort, constant evaluation and improvement and, over time, possibly an acceptance that people change and might be too different to continue together.
Successes are often found in partnerships of equals – where each party is clear on what they bring to the table. At our best, RKCR/Y&R has brought cultural equity and fame to M&S' product and ubiquitous high street presence.
This has led to an array of "marital offspring" that has been consistently recognised and awarded for both creativity and effectiveness:
From the radical replacement of "Marks & Spencer" with the advertising idea "Your M&S" on every store fascia for which we were awarded the IPA Effectiveness Grand Prix; to creating "food porn" with "This is not just food, this is M&S food", an idea that was affectionately parodied all around the world and is still ingrained in the national consciousness a decade on.
We put M&S fashion ads on TV for the first time and, by making Twiggy the face of the brand, tapped directly into our audience.
We've developed business transforming ideas like "Plan A because there is no Plan B" and Shwopping – baking market-leading sustainability into the business. And we innovated around promotions – creating Dine in for £10, the original recession proof solution to restaurant quality dining at home.
Shirley Bassey, Take That, Antonio Banderas, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Kay, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and David Gandy are just some of the celebrity friends who have helped bring magic and sparkle to Christmas year after year.
Our marital highlights were born out of a shared vision, when we both felt equally responsible for successes and failures and were willing to "hold hands" in public.
But familiarity and boredom are the high-risk counter stakes of any long-term partnership. And this can be particularly exacerbated when you're a celebrity couple, constantly in the spotlight.
M&S is undoubtedly a unique brand in this respect – a national treasure that both the public and the press want to do well – but are quick to shout about when it doesn’t.
It's clear that M&S has some challenging business problems to solve and as they strive to reinvent themselves, they have questioned everything – including the partner they're with.
While breaking up is always hard to do, it also affords both parties the chance of a complete makeover. And in this respect, at RKCR/Y&R, we’ve emerged from the relationship wiser, more confident and ready to start "dating" again. We wish our ex the best of luck in doing the same.
This article was originally published in Campaign on 5th September 2016. Jon Sharpe is chief executive of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R.