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The Holly Nichols marketing campaign is smashing – no matter what the critics say

By Laurna Woods

Critics often hate the movies that film fans flock to see. It’s also the case with marketing campaigns, as Harvey Nichols has found with its rebrand as Holly Nichols and subsequent Suffragettes-inspired window smashing. 

Commentators were lining up to criticise the concept and the stunt. But I’ve got to say that, as the CEO of an integrated communications agency and a woman who is right in the department chain’s key demographic, I bloody loved it. And it seems the public do, too. 

I only loved the PR stunt more after hearing Harvey Nichols’ marketing director Deborah Bee speak about the campaign at a London Fashion Week event for the women in business group Everywoman last week. 

The media relations and marketing campaign, running for the month of September, ties in with the centenary of votes for women. The window stunt reflects an incident in 1912 when Suffragettes drew attention to their cause by shattering windows of department stores including Harvey Nichols. 

Back then, Harvey Nicks had the women prosecuted. Last week, those same demonstrators were celebrated, with Dr Helen Pankhurst – great-granddaughter of Suffragette hero Emmeline Pankhurst – one of the women delivering blows to the windows of the Knightsbridge store.

Critics have poo-pooed the gesture, the month-long Holly Nichols rebrand and the chain’s new “Let’s hear it for the girls” slogan. Writing in Campaign, commentator Nicola Kemp described the moves as “peak faux-feminism”.

Positive public perception

Kemp also said that with the “assertion that women will ‘take over’ for the month of September (after which they will presumably all shuffle back into the kitchen?) the rebrand comes off as tone deaf and lacking depth”.

But the reaction of the general public to the media relations campaign has appeared overwhelmingly positive, with posts gaining hundreds of likes on Twitter and Instagram. What the public is seeing is a high street institution which has moved with the times and is on-message about the importance and role of women in modern society.

Harvey Nicks is, after all, a department store chain that is led by women. Its chief operating officers are women, as are six of the eight people on its management board. This thread of females is in the business’s DNA – one of its founding partners was Anne Harvey.

This fact led to criticism that the brand was wiping out a woman’s name in a bid to celebrate women. Bee explains the name Holly was used instead because so many people assume there had been a Mr Harvey Nichols. And Holly shares a similar shape and the same number of syllables that Harvey has.


At the Everywoman event, Bee told how a bloke who was right-on enough to know his Harvey Nicks history, but not right-on enough to know what mansplaining is, had messaged her on LinkedIn to tell there had been an Anne, but never a Holly. He then tried – unsuccessfully, of course – to sell his services to a marketing director he’d just accused of being ignorant of her own brand.

That, to me, is the kind of strength that a brand that wants my money should be showing. It knows what it stands for, sticks by it, and won’t be undermined by know-alls.

And its media relations and marketing campaign could hardly be more important. The chain made a £6 million-plus loss last year. It has seen one of its high-street rivals, House of Fraser, go into administration then be rescued by Sports Direct.

Then rumours circulated last week that House of Fraser could be set to merge with Debenhams, which is itself part-owned by Mike Ashley’s sportswear chain.

Midst of a rebrand

Meanwhile, John Lewis is in the midst of a rebrand to John Lewis and Partners after profits plunged by 98 per cent.

Harvey Nichols could soon find itself as the only truly exclusive department store chain left in the UK.

A marketing campaign that establishes an identity that mirrors the thinking of the modern women who choose to shop there could make all the difference.

The thoughts of the commentators don’t count. What counts is the thoughts of the shoppers, and whether they are convinced Harvey – or Holly – still deserves their cash.

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