M&S recruits comedians to boost its flagging sales

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The Independent Online

The high-street chain is manifestly hoping so, having recruited the comedians Jimmy Carr and Bob Mortimer and The Office star Martin Freeman as the new faces of its upmarket Autograph clothes collection.

Captured by the renowned photographer David Bailey in their M&S suits, the trio might, nonetheless, be regarded as more bloke next door than some of the stars who have promoted the store in the past, such as David Beckham and Joan Collins.

Steve Sharp, the marketing director, said many male customers were not keen on the stereotypical male model look, yet choosing ordinary people for adverts was difficult.

"Dove [bodycare products] have done it with a particularly successful campaign, but they're not in the fashion business and we are. These men have ordinary figures and faces and hairstyles but they are celebrities," he said.

"They're known for their honesty and their humour and they bring that honesty in a way you don't get with a fashion model or an ordinary person."

All three had been happy to take part in the promotion which begins next month, he added. "Comedians, historically, were fairly shabby in appearance, but there's a new genre that really likes to dress smartly and many of their observations are based on how people look and shop."

Jimmy Carr, who is currently at the Edinburgh festival, said: "Who doesn't wear M&S underwear? They've been 'supporting' me for years and now I'm glad I've got a suit to wear as well. Marks & Spencer is a great British institution."

The Autograph menswear line is designed by Timothy Everest and Nigel Hall with prices of £249 for a tailored suit and £39.50 for a merino wool sweater. The range is being extended from 30 stores to 180 this autumn.

Claire Beale, the editor of Campaign, the advertising industry magazine, said Marks & Spencer had enjoyed some success with the use of celebrity endorsements from Helena Christensen and Cat Deeley and were trying to repeat that for male shoppers.

"They've been clever in their choice of male celebrities because the comedians are well liked, they are more approachable and easier to relate to than some of the threatening fashion icons used by rival clothes brands," she said.

"The challenge for M&S is to put itself back on the map of the affluent younger shopper and the celebrities they've chosen will have a particular resonance with this audience."

What it will do for their respective comedy careers is quite another matter.