Ethical shopping campaign 'is most successful in M&S history'

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The success of Marks & Spencer's ethical marketing drive that urged shoppers to "look behind the label" has dwarfed all its previous advertising campaigns, according to research from a leading City brokerage.

The campaign, intended to trumpet the retailer's ethical milestones such as banning battery-farmed eggs from its ready meals, had a bigger positive impact on the M&S brand than any of its past efforts, Citigroup claimed yesterday in a note to investors.

The broker predicted the retailer's ethical stance would "underpin" its resurrection in the coming months. It tipped household products as the next opportunity the retailer has to build an "ethical bridge" with its customers.

Future campaigns are expected to build on the ethical high ground that M&S has claimed in recent months by selling clothing lines made purely from Fairtrade cotton and promising to remove all hydrogenated fats from its food by the end of this year.

Analysts at Citigroup calculated that M&S had "at least" a six-month lead over the UK's four top supermarket chains - Tesco, J Sainsbury, Asda and Wm Morrison - on persuading shoppers that it is the most ethical place to shop.

"We expect the company to use this advantage to introduce new areas of 'responsibility' particularly in areas where its competitors will not be able to follow," the analysts wrote in the note.

M&S made corporate advertising history when it became the first big high-street retailer to tap into shoppers' ethical conscience in a major campaign. The ads, which launched in February and are still running, focus on the way M&S sources and makes products from T-shirts to ready meals.

"While it is impossible to split out the impact of any one individual campaign on sales performance, the evidence collected by the company indicates that this was the most positive campaign the business has ever run, and measured, on brand perception," analysts at Citigroup said. They said the company's efforts on the ethical front were "contributing to the ongoing sales recovery and will underpin the brand's performance going forward".

M&S now sells basic Fairtrade garments in many of its stores and has switched all its coffee and tea to Fairtrade. On the non-food side, it has banned the use of harmful chemical dyes, while on food it says it has lowered the salt in its ready meals and removed artificial colours and flavourings from their list of ingredients.

Waitrose, part of the John Lewis Partnership, is M&S's main challenger in the ethical field, although Citigroup believes that M&S is winning the battle. Christian Cull, marketing director for Waitrose, said: "Our key focus is provenance. It has been for a number of years."