There have been a lot of unlikely twists and turns during this World Cup: defending champs Germany getting knocked out in the group stages; Three Lions' potential return to number one in the UK charts; and Gareth Southgate’s newfound reputation as a sartorial icon – all thanks to a trusty (and some may even say lucky) Marks & Spencer waistcoat.
Throughout the tournament, Southgate has been loyally sporting an M&S official FA waistcoat on the sidelines. Retailing at £65 it’s a navy tailored merino wool number with “unique button” detailing and jacquard lining.
The waistcoat has drawn such attention that the Museum of London has even asked Southgate to donate the jacket to its collection.
Sales of M&S waistcoats have “doubled” during England’s journey to the semis thanks to the gaffer, M&S clothing and home marketing director Nathan Ansell told The Drum. And there’s no denying the British retailer has done a sterling job of jumping on the buzz to make sure it stays relevant to fans.
As England readies to face off Croatia in its first World Cup semi-final since 1990 the product is “flying” off the shelves (at the time of writing it was only available in XXL) with supporters flocking to snap up the garment in honour of ‘Waistcoat Wednesday’, which will see England fans in Russia and at home don it in support of the lions.
"We brought some more in at about 2pm [on Tuesday] afternoon, and we're constantly replenishing stock and doing everything we can to make sure that every customer who wants one can get their hands on one – but they're flying out, especially online," said Ansell .
“The amazing thing is that M&S online searches [for waistcoats] have gone up by more than 100%, it’s phenomenal,” Ansell added. He noted it had a “halo effect” on the rest of the product range but that it was too soon to describe the impact waistcoat fever has had on overall brand equity.
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While M&S has been the official tailor to the England team for 11 years, the no-nonsense British brand still seems an unlikely candidate to use the World Cup to amplify its message.
Edgier challenger brands such as Airbnb or Nike seem well-placed to take that crown; but like Harry Kane M&S has shot, and it has scored. As well as reactive social updates throughout the games, M&S ran a simple full-page ad in The Metro on Tuesday (10 July) featuring a jubilant Southgate alongside the tagline ‘Bring it Home’, with similar creative now popping up in store fronts.
This week, it lit up Wembley with a message drawing attention to the so-called #LuckyWaistcoat that has helped England triumph over Sweden, Colombia and more this World Cup. The retailer also christened last Saturday’s quarter final as ‘National Waistcoat Day’.
“We’ve been responding to stuff in hours and minutes in some instances” Ansell said. The marketer suggested this playful, responsive creative – which involved a number of staff from its styling, editorial, PR and marketing team as well as its agencies – was part of a bigger shift in strategy.
“As part of some of the changes we’ve undergone and the transformation of our marketing we’re trying to move towards a much more modern, high-energy, dynamic marketing function,” he said.
“So there’s always a planned activity and drum beat to what we’re doing depending if we’re talking about events or new products, but we’re always looking for opportunities to be part of the national conversation.”
Ansell said the cumulation of his team's efforts comes today (11 July) on Waistcoat Wednesday.
"What we want is for everyone to really get behind it and show their support for the boys to bring the trophy back home," he said.
Waistcoat Wednesday has even become more than just a football-inspired fashion event. Separate from M&S' style initiative, UK charity Bloodwise is encouraging those who wear a waistcoat to donate money to its cause.
One step closer... @HuaweiMobileUK #luckywaistcoat #Eng #Worldcup pic.twitter.com/awvpqk9DwU — M&S (@marksandspencer) July 7, 2018
As for what happens if football really does come home on Sunday, Ansell was tight-lipped about any surprises M&S might have in store.
Last week, a stunt from mobile brand Huawei to advertise the zoom feature on its P20 Pro phone suggested that if fans looked closely enough they'd see that Southgate's pinstripes actually formed the sentence 'it's coming home'.
On Twitter, M&S has teased that a bespoke waistcoat embossed with the words from Frank Skinner and David Baddiel's legendary tune might just become a reality.
"We'll have to wait and see won't we – you'll have to keep your eyes peeled," the marketing director laughed. "If we do get through there might be some surprises in store but let's wait and see what happens."
Well, one thing's for sure: this is not just a waistcoat. This is an M&S waistcoat.