Ian Monk: M&S wins in the bra and PR wars

For decades it was the 'Wonder of Woolies'. Now, in PR terms at least, it should be the Marvel of Marks.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

Seemingly no matter what the crisis or challenge, the high street colossus always seems up to come up smelling of roses - if Sir Stuart will pardon the expression.

Last week it found itself under heavy media fire for its decision to charge extra for larger-size brassieres. ‘Bra Wars’ was joined by Facebook protest groups and the banshee wail of female newspaper columnists.

Cue 1,000 tabloid puns. Scores of Sun Page Three girls were recruited to spearhead the newspaper’s support for a national Busts 4 Justice campaign.

Ulrika Jonsson, for so long the butt of the paper’s vicious caricature of her as a 4 x 4 mother (four children, four fathers), switched to being a Daily Mail angel to lend her support to its campaign for price equality.

The result? M&S executed a screeching u-turn with a one-price-fits-all-bras announcement.

How Gordon Brown must have envied the reaction. Rather than being excoriated as weak, Sir Stuart basked in the glow of headlines about the sympathetic leader who listened to his consumer constituency.

The pages of decorative pictures of M&S bras are already producing a sales boost to offset any loss of earnings from its £2 surcharge on bigger sizes.

M&S of course has form for snatching positive headlines from the jaws of PR disaster. The manner in which it drove a publicity dividend from Jeremy Paxman’s apparently private correspondence bemoaning the lack of wriggle room in its underwear had some cynics suspecting a touch of news creation.

Similarly the store was quick last year to leap on to the ‘green’ bandwagon being driven by the Daily Mail. In a noble and headline-grabbing initiative to help save the planet from the perils of tons of discarded plastic, the store levied a five pence charge on its carrier bags.

Doubtless when the expense annoys enough customers it will go – probably amid another blitz of sales-boosting headlines.

Truly this is not just spin. This is Marks and Spin.

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