Marketing: The big pitch for Britain

As Harrods department store sets out to prove that it's not just for toffs and tourists, a Sexy Beast, a boxer, a Bear, a pair of Spooks and a Time Lord's sidekick lend a hand. Ian Burrell reports on the new ad campaign

ne is happy to be seen as an old bruiser and the other, though he has as yet hardly borne a blow, has recently committed himself to a working life inside a boxing ring. Neither man, you would have thought, was an obvious choice as a new face of the top people's store, Harrods.

But actor Ray Winstone and boxer Amir Khan have been approved by Mohamed Al Fayed as the new ambassadors of the Knightsbridge emporium, as it attempts to dispel the notion that it is just another stop on the London tourist itinerary.

A campaign of poster and press advertisements, to be unveiled later this week, will feature Winstone, Khan and other inspirational contemporary British figures, including singer-turned-actress Billie Piper and mountaineer Bear Grylls.

It is a culmination of a hunt for a team of celebrity sponsors that began last year with a long list of 60 names and a campaign slogan, "If there was one thing you could have from Harrods, what would it be?"

Conor Nolan, Fayed's personal spokesman and Harrods marketing co-ordinator, says: "We were looking for people from different fields, who were slightly quirky and still had value in terms of their media image. We had a wide variety of well-known individuals and personalities. I don't like to use the word 'celebrities' because that reeks of Heat and Big Brother."

Nolan, who previously worked in the film and music businesses for companies such as Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox and EMI, began contacting agents personally.

"We quickly realised that the American Hollywood superstars whom we work with for the World Famous Harrods Sale weren't really appropriate," he says. "People who shop at Harrods come from all over the world, but this campaign is to reach people in the UK, with a fair - but not total - London bias. We particularly wanted people who are British because Harrods is a quintessentially British department store."

The first face to sign up was Spooks actress Keeley Hawes, closely followed by her husband Matthew Macfadyen (Mr Darcy in the Keira Knightley film version of Pride & Prejudice).

Nolan says: "They were quite keen to do it because ultimately we are of benefit to these people as much as they are to us."

Of all the new faces of Harrods, Khan, the 19-year-old Bolton-born fight prodigy, is likely to attract the most interest. Nolan says: "His people came to see me in London and got it very quickly. As we began negotiations with him he began to rise in prominence in the media. He seems to have very quickly captured the hearts and imaginations of the British public."

Khan is right for Harrods, says Nolan, "Because he's different, a very young man who has come into the sporting arena and quickly become successful." In turn, he says, Khan's advisers saw the value in being associated with "a global brand name" as his career develops. "He's also promoted by Frank Warren, a very savvy and sharp operator who knows the value of a substantial media image."

Winstone was apparently a name that stood out on the Harrods wish-list. "There was one name that kept coming back from within the organisation, with them saying 'can we have this person?' That was Ray Winstone," says Nolan. "Ray Winstone is a great screen actor, he transcends TV, independent movies and big American blockbusters. He's one of Britain's finest screen actors."

Grylls, the former SAS man who became the youngest Brit to conquer Everest, and Doctor Who star Billie Piper complete the line-up.

"Collectively, this group gives us emotional resonance in terms of their connection with the British public. Everyone will know all of them through reading newspapers, watching the television and reading books," says Nolan. 'They are not multi-million dollar Hollywood superstars, they have more in common with the people that come and shop at the store."

The English translation of Harrods' Latin motto is "Anything's possible". Rob Fletcher, creative partner at London ad agency Isobel, which drew up the campaign, says the idea came from the old notion that "you could get an elephant from Harrods". He says: "It's from the days of the Empire when the customer always came first. Nowadays, there is a general culture of 'Computer says 'no'' but Harrods have still kept that old-fashioned way that the customer always gets what they want."

The Knightsbridge store also has a reputation for being a posh people's preserve. "It would have been easy just to have been posh [in the campaign]," says Fletcher. "But luxury brands are more accessible to everybody now."

The campaign will also, he hopes, dispel the myth that the department store is awash with tourists. "A lot of Londoners have got it in their heads that it is a place you go and see if you've never been before. In fact, people go there to find the things they want at a reasonable price, it's not just a place to get the carrier bag and the teddy bear."

The campaign slogan, about the favourite Harrods item, Fletcher describes as "a good chatshow question", which "reveals a lot about the character" of the respondent.

Although he has employed the Harrods logo on the advertising, Fletcher decided against the distinctive dark green for added branding. "The adverts don't look like a Harrods carrier bag," he says.

He says his mind's eye still links Harrods with green and gold and men in top hats outside the doors. "Advertising changes perceptions. I want to change it into a cool and contemporary place to go and buy anything," he says.

So what items did the new Harrods faces choose? Football fan Khan wanted a box at Bolton Wanderers Reebok stadium, which Harrods could arrange, for a game at least, through its By Appointment private shopping service.

Hawes chose a session at Harrods' Urban Retreat luxury spa, situated on the fifth floor of the department store.

Winstone elected for a £999 state-of-the-art Dressman shirt-steamer (electrical goods department) while Grylls wanted a Sikorski helicopter (Harrods Aviation).

Piper chose something that it must be safe to assume was not available until she mentioned it, namely Jammy Dodger-flavoured ice-cream. Ahead of the campaign, and in anticipation of demand, the dubious-sounding delicacy will be provided by the gelateria in the famous Harrods Food Hall.

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