Sunday, February 21, 2021

Vox Popoli: Corporate cancer kills

You may recall that I addressed the convergence of British department store John Lewis in Corporate Cancer.

John Lewis is the king of the Christmas commercial. Its famous 2010 Red Dress advert featured the life of one woman from birth to old age as she goes through all of the stages of life while wearing a red dress. It’s a touching little piece, a brilliant advertisement that is well worth seeing, and it boosted Christmas sales at John Lewis by 39.7 percent that year.

The 2017 ad, which featured an oversized Muppet called Moz and a little mixed-race boy was equally well-received, but only by the marketing experts. They were particularly excited by the diversity and the interracial aspects of the ad.

Hurray for seeing some diversity on such an epic advertising moment—my surprise at the mixed-race parents shows how rarely we see it in the advertising world.

—Zoe Harris, group marketing director and head of invention, Trinity Mirror

How rarely indeed! However, the 2017 Christmas season was marked by an unusual series of identical rarities. It wasn’t merely John Lewis, but also Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Sainsbury’s, who each independently decided to feature mixed-race couples celebrating Christmas together in their big holiday advertisement. Even more remarkably, every single one of them just happened to feature a black man with a white woman, which, given the present UK demographics, can only be described as extraordinarily improbable.

After all, there are more Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, and other Asians in the UK than there are blacks. Where were they?

Unlike the USA, the United Kingdom tracks ethnicity rather closely, so we can accurately determine exactly how statistically improbable these expensive Christmas advertisements were. As it turns out, there is only a one-in-327 chance that such a couple would be randomly selected. And the chance of all five commercials just happening to feature that particular pairing is one in 3,738,856,210,407.

That is one in 3.7 trillion, more or less. So, it wasn’t just a series of coincidences. It was evidence of convergence in the British advertising industry.

You will probably not be surprised to learn that these converged commercials did not prove to be very popular with the British public over the 2017 Christmas season. As a result, John Lewis was forced to cut its prices to prevent its year-on-year sales from falling and stated that its holiday sales “will negatively affect full-year financial results”.

Corporate Cancer was published in 2019. Two years later, the business news about the outlook for John Lewis will not surprise anyone who read the book.

John Lewis could close eight more of its remaining branches, with larger older shops most likely to close for good, it is claimed. The department store could shut a fifth of its 42 remaining stores, as negotiations with landlords continue and hundreds of jobs are put at risk, The Sunday Times reports. 

Any announcement of closures is expected to take place alongside the company's annual results on March 11. John Lewis Partnership's chairwoman Dame Sharon White has reportedly put forward eight shops for closure in an effort to further cut costs after the company suffered a £635m loss last September, The Sunday Times reports. 

The news follows the closure of eight John Lewis stores, including John Lewis' flagship Birmingham store, and the loss of 1,300 jobs in July last year - which was followed by a further 1,500 jobs axed from head office in November.