Can a cynical Christmas TV commercial save a luxury brand?


Luxury brands are beginning to feel the effects of slowing economic growth in Asia, political protests in Thailand and Hong Kong, political confrontation in Russia and Ukraine, political instability in the Middle East and the threat of Ebola.

Demand from Asia for luxury goods, especially expensive bags and other leather products appears to be on the wane. Struggling more than many others is Mulberry, one of the finest British luxury brands and manufacturers of exquisite leather goods that are actually made in England. In fact, as many brands look to increase profits by outsourcing their manufacturing to China, Mulberry is increasing production in the UK.

60% of Revenues from the UK
Mulberry generates more than 60% of its revenue from the UK but has been trying hard to grow sales outside of the UK, particularly in the US and Asia. In its quest to become a global luxury brand it has made some disastrous strategic decisions including raising its already high prices to differentiate itself from more affordable luxury brands.

For the British Mulberry was always an aspirational brand that offered affordable luxury but by going after the rich in Asia and America, it may have priced itself out of the segment it once dominated in the market it makes the most money.

At the beginning of 2014, the Chief Executive Bruno Guillon announced that he intends to bring ‘more excitement’ to the brand. From the outside this seemed to be nothing more than trying to create ever more expensive handbags that competed head on with Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton. Bags that had once cost £500 got a makeover and were back on the shelves at £900.

The core customers were upset and drifted to other brands. By March 2014 Guillon was on his bike and Chairman Godfrey Davis returned to take the reins. In the summer of 2012, Mulberry’s share price topped £25 (RM140). By the time Guillon left it was around £6.40. Today it has regained some value at £7.30 (RM40) but is still off its peak.

Deserting middle England
Guillon was accused of deserting ‘middle England’ the middle classes that made the brand. Judging by the Mulberry 2014 Christmas ad it looks like the brand is trying to regain its relationship with that loyal segment.

Christmas in England is commonly associated with Santa Claus and reindeer, over eating, cottages covered with snow, a tree with lots of presents in front of an open fire, carols and goodwill to all men.

But in some families there is a darker side to Christmas that is rarely spoken about. The competition to give the best possible present, often to the most annoying and spoilt family member, can be intense. With this in mind, Mulberry has created a cynical but lovely parody in what I think is their first ever Christmas commercial.

33% of annual sales generated in November and December
In the west, retailers generate over 30% of annual sales during November and December and Mulberry will be hoping this ad will kick start the recovery of the business. Longer term they need to work on rebuilding their core values and create a Mulberry narrative that resonates with their target markets and once again become a successful aspirational brand.

But in the meantime, it’s Christmas morning, somewhere in middle England…