Marks & Spencer’s data-driven approach to Christmas goes for sales over sentiment

It’s a far cry from last year’s loveable Paddington ad, which had 6.9 million views on M&S’s YouTube channel alone.

But popularity didn’t translate into sales, so for 2018 M&S has binned the blockbuster and created two unashamedly data-driven Christmas campaigns for its food and clothing divisions, both hell-bent on driving customers into stores and online.

Nathan Ansell, director of marketing for clothing and home, said: “The battle of the ads doesn’t bother me. We didn’t want to advertise Christmas. Everyone knows what it is. We know what we need to do. Driving sales is more important. This is a more modern and dynamic integrated campaign, created by sitting all our agencies around a table. The best ideas often come from the place you least expect.”

Today sees the release of the Holly Willoughby-fronted clothing and home effort, based on “Christmas must-haves” from the store. The TV ad has something for everyone – including David Gandy in his marigolds doing the Christmas washing up – and social media content will be constantly updated to keep M&S front of mind all day, every day until the big day.

Last week M&S released its food campaign, talking to customers around the country about what they think of M&S food. There’s a spontaneity to the ads, which even allow room for some debate: Brussells sprouts are always a contentious issue, and one child dismisses Christmas the pudding as “too round.”

The ads might be a lot cheaper to make than the Paddington CGI epic, but the media spend is bigger this year. Sherry Crammond, food marketing director at M&S, said that her division is spending 40 per cent more on media, and 60 per cent more on TV, than last Christmas.

Both campaigns have a hashtag inviting customers to share their favourite purchases: #MyMarksFaves for food, and #ChristmasMustHaves for clothing and home. Sales of M&S items recently endorsed by celebrities on social media have gone up as much as 300 per cent, and Holly’s favourites were selling at the rate of one every two seconds when her autumn campaign launched, so it’s an important channel for the retailer.

M&S claims to sell a quarter of all Christmas turkeys, but the challenge is to get customers to do their entire festive food shop with them. Focusing on a volume-based recovery, many of the prices have been cut considerably from last year: 12 vol-au-vents are £5 down from £7, and the classic Christmas pudding is down to £8 from £9.

It’s a similar story for clothing. Ansell said: “A lot of customers shop with us, but not as often as we’d like. We need to grow our frequency. It’s all about frequency.”

Using M&S’s own data on what purchases shoppers make at each stage in the run up to Christmas, content for both campaigns is scheduled to hit every screen at the appropriate time. Clothing starts with party wear and then goes through knitwear to sleepwear, while food focuses on a different favourite each week, concluding with freshest food.

Grey London worked with agencies including Mindshare on the campaigns.

MAA creative scale: 6 (would score higher on an effectiveness scale)

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall
Emma Hall is the former London Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.

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