Iconic fashion brand Ted Baker has fallen out of relevance, but can its new owners help it regain its identity? A former marketing exec and industry analysts weigh in on its uncertain future.
Ted Baker was launched by Ray Kelvin in 1988 and famously named after his alter ego. The brand was built on its Britishness and the eccentricities of the founder, carving out a niche with its high-street-luxury position. But it’s had a rocky few years, with a share collapse in 2018 and Kelvin exiting the business on misconduct claims in 2019, culminating in a pre-tax profit loss of £38.4m in 2021. It’s now been bought by Reebok and Juicy Courtier owner Authentic Brands Group for $254m.
“I am unsure if Ted Baker is still the company I once knew; however, I hope under new ownership it will regain its identity,” said Kelvin on the change of guard. “At its core, Ted is a unique and very special brand born out of love and passion for what we do.”
YouGov data showed between January 2020 and August 2022 Ted Baker’s brand index scores fell from 13.1 to 11.9, its reputation score dropped from 19.8 to 16.8 and quality marginally slipped from 25.9 to 24.9. These are subtle declines; unlike a brand such as Abercrombie and Fitch, which has lost five points of its YouGov index score on the back of a damning documentary into its practices, this slow decline suggests consumers are simply not interested or excited by the brand.
And, in part, that failure falls on marketing.
Ted Baker was once famed for its unorthodox strategy, having waited till 2018 to run its first-ever multimedia advertising campaign. In the past, it has produced quirky films, including its 2016 espionage-themed short film directed by Guy Ritchie and an eight-part comedy sitcom ‘Keeping up with the Bakers.’
For its social strategy, Ted Baker has preferred customers to organically discover the brand by hiding posts and setting treasure hunts. This was based on Kelvin’s “sexier to conceal than reveal” approach to marketing.
Craig Smith is a former marketer at the company. He spent 24 years shaping the brand in roles such as digital commerce director and brand communications director before leaving in 2019.
During his time in the business, he said the brand team was given time, resource and investment. “Everything then was about articulating our brand and our products in the right way and giving a continued point of difference in the market,” he says.
“Now it feels like a sausage factory to just get the work done.”
The sudden exit of the eccentric founder has played a part in Ted Baker “losing its way.” Since then, its marketing has lacked distinction and personality – “it looks a bit drab and a bit half-hearted.” Its new owners, he advises, need to be “brave and go back to the basics.”
“It’s had a horrid time and I would like nothing more than to see it moved back to its initial success,” Smith adds.
“It needs a real kickstart of energy and ambition. If that’s a clean sweep, out with the old and in with the new, then so be it.”
Could responsible fashion be the answer?
But for others, its problems lie much deeper. Zara Ineson, executive creative director at ODD-owned agency House 337, suggests Ted Baker fell out of relevance because it failed to adapt to the “seismic shift in consumer culture.”
“Our relationship with our clothes has changed. We are dressing in a more utilitarian, effortless way – the days of slavishly following trends of the catwalks are gone. Ted didn’t adapt to that shift,” she says.
The recently-opened House 337, owned by Odd and Engine Creative, specializes in “ethical consulting.” In this vein, Ineson says: “The rise of fresh, youthful, fun and sustainable brands such as Ganni and Reformation has left Ted in the dust when it comes to feeling good about buying new.”
Authentic Brands Group needs to redefine and make clear Ted Baker’s values. “What does Ted stand for and against? What is its POV on the world or the greater role of clothing? How can it show up in a way that demonstrates it’s on the side of its community? Forget about playing off Britishness and its founder.”
“Reebok should be asking the brand some of these significant, more socially and culturally-fuelled provocations to find their relevance in today’s world,” Ineson concludes.