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Debenhams’ Inclusivity PR campaign established retailer as campaigner of the high street

Consumers are more and more concerned with cause behind purchasing. From purchasing ethically grown or reared food products to clothing products which have been produced fairly, ethical issues are influencing consumer behaviour more than ever before.

In the wake of London Fashion Week, and the predictable controversy of skinny models once again thrown into the mix, it seems appropriate to take a look at one high-street retailer which went the other way and embraced individuality. Championing inclusivity, Debenhams won over consumers with its refreshing campaign involving models not typically seen in fashion imagery.

2010 saw the launch of the Debenhams Inclusivity Campaign. The award winning campaign has gained extensive coverage and prestige for celebrating the female physique and showcasing imagery that is both inspirational and realistic to modern British women.

The campaign includes the use of size 16 mannequins in a flagship store, a disabled model featuring in window photography, un-airbrushed photography in a window display and the use of older models in campaign photography.

Debenhams has always aimed to use models of all shapes and sizes. However, the Debenhams Inclusivity campaign broke ranks with the rest of the High Street by being more representative of women of all shapes, sizes, and ages.

In 2010 Debenhams focused on making their creative materials inclusive of all women.

The inclusivity campaign kicked off in February to coincide with London Fashion Week. The main PR objectives were to:

  • Generate discussion about size in the run up to London Fashion Week
  • Raise awareness of Principles’ return to the high street, at Debenhams

In keeping with most fashion retailers, Debenhams tended to use size 10 mannequins, however as 42% of its sales come from size 14-16 garments, it felt needed to provide larger mannequins to engage with the customer base. Debenhams trialled size 16 mannequins in the flagship Oxford Street store and asked customers to provide feedback on their opinions. Next to the mannequins was displayed a sign saying ‘I’m a size 16, would you like to see more of me?’ An exclusive was secured with the London Evening Standard, and following the exclusive, a press sell-in was arranged. The mannequins were very popular and the campaign generated positive feedback in-store. Since then Debenhams have decided to roll them out further in 2011. The move was praised by eating disorder charities and peer groups. Jo Swinson, Lib Dem MP and co-founder of Campaign for Body Confidence, welcomed the move, saying: ‘It’s great news that Debenhams will be using images of real women who have not been digitally manipulated to advertise their new swimwear range.’

There has been a lack of representation of disabled people in the media. 2010 saw Debenhams become the first high street retailer to break the taboo of using disabled models in campaign photography. Following an approach from Nikki Fox and Natasha Wood, both disability campaigners and presenters from the hit Channel 4 show ‘How to Look Good Naked With A Difference’, Shannon Murray, who has used a wheelchair since an accident in her teens, appeared in window photography and online.

Michael Sharp, Debenhams’ Deputy Chief Executive said “We cater for women of all shapes and sizes, young and old, so we wanted our windows to reflect this.”

The story was picked up by a wide spread of national newspapers, including; The Independent, The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Mirror as well as generating international and online coverage.

In the pilot campaign Shannon joined three other models diverse in shape and size; Kate Fullman (a size 16 model), Tess Montgomery (a petite model) and Tokumbo Daniel (a size 10 model) to launch the new Principles by Ben De Lisi range. The campaign was trialled in Debenhams Glasgow, Guildford, London - Oxford Street and Nottingham.

Following the success of the campaign, Debenhams committed itself to using disabled models in other photography. Following the huge positive response from the trial, the campaign was rolled out to all 160 stores in September 2010 and disabled models will continue to be implemented in Debenhams photography going forward.

The mainstream fashion industry is saturated with airbrushed images of models with flawless skin and perfect bodies, creating unrealistic expectations for consumers. Debenhams believed that the overuse of some digital technology contributed to women’s insecurities about their natural looks and sizes. So in summer 2010 they took the bold move to remove airbrushing from images, building on previous campaign activity by launching their summer swimwear lines with unaltered imagery. As the feedback from customers and the press was so positive they have now banned all unnecessary technology from retouching photography.

High fashion and high street imagery is dominated by models under 25 who appear in advertising, in magazines and at point of sale. However, with women over the age of 40 forming a substantial percentage of its customer base, Debenhams was keen to take further measures to establish their inclusivity credentials and use older models to better represent Debenhams customers. Therefore in launching A/W 2010, Debenhams took the initiative to use three models in their 40s, 50s and 60s in their Oxford Street window, to resonate with the older customer.

The campaign named ‘the style list’ was an industry first and saw Debenhams join forces with fashion commentator and diversity campaigner Caryn Franklin. The style list has given ongoing solutions, advice and guidance on how 40+women can achieve any desired look whether it be evening, day or weekend wear. This campaign was delivered in stores, online and through photography used by Debenhams.

Debenhams hopes the launch of the Style List will alert other retailers to the needs and wants of this seemingly overlooked market of fashion savvy shoppers and spur them to follow suit.

Debenhams will continue to develop their inclusivity campaign in 2011 and establish themselves further as a true campaigner of the high street.

Debenhams’ use of disabled model, Shannon Murray earned Debenhams the Most Inspirational Campaign Award at the 2010 AMI Awards.

All initiatives have been very well received, gaining national and international coverage across all mediums. The campaign increased brand awareness and gained online, print and television coverage both nationally and internationally.

Testimonials
“Retailers do have the power to take a stance on digital manipulation. Fashion and beauty imagery that is honest is absolutely crucial for all women to see. I’m delighted that Debenhams has taken the lead here and customer feedback will no doubt validate this important step”. Caryn Franklin, fashion commentator and broadcaster

“Debenhams is pushing the boundaries by producing the first ever disabled campaign in conjunction with How to Look Good Naked, and I hope that one day disabilities will be recognised by every chain in the high street.” Gok Wan, TV Presenter

“I think this is a fabulous step forward by Debenhams and I’m proud to be part of such a big move towards positive representation of disability in high street fashion.” Shannon Murray, model

“Women often feel it is their fault that clothes don’t look as good on them as they do in the shop window so we congratulate Debenhams on taking on this initiative.” Susan Ringwood, Chief Executive of Beat charity.

This case study was awarded a nomination in the category of PR strategy at The Drum Marketing Awards

Featured by The Drum