By Imogen Watson, Senior reporter

November 7, 2019 | 6 min read

Marks and Spencer (M&S) has brought its successful digital food series – What’s New at M&S – to the big screen this festive season.

The retailer's 2019 festive ad has been in works since the team got back after New Year’s Eve last January. Sharry Cramond, marketing director of the M&S Food said the first thing the team did was look at what it did right last year, given Kantar Millward Brown put it in the top three performing ads across the entire retail sector.

Last year, its Christmas food campaign deviated from its usual approach, using real-life customers for the first time in an unscripted ad. “It wasn’t rocket science,” she admitted. “It was very product-focused, with real families across the UK tasting our products. We don’t need to make up elaborate fairy tales. The key insight was - everyone genuinely loves M&S food.”

In a similar vein, the 2019 Christmas campaign gets real people to eat M&S’s Christmas range. To do this, M&S created a real-life Christmas market and invited 125 real M&S customers to come taste its Christmas range.

“And then we thought, who better to man the stand at the Christmas market than our incredible product development team?” Cramond said. “And then we thought, every party needs a host.”

Last September, M&S kicked off a year-long social media campaign that saw TV stars Amanda Holden, Rochelle Humes, Paddy McGuinness and Emma Willis tasting out its new products each month and picking out their favourites.

Hailed as its “biggest ever social media campaign” and a “gamechanger” in M&S’s marketing strategy, the series has been a hit with its more digital-savvy audience.

The food retailer claims that if you added all the minutes the celeb panel has been watched, it would total 20 years and 96 days; the average watch time of the episodes is over five minutes (beating its benchmarks), and overall the episodes have reached at least 10.6 million unique users, delivering over 20 million views.

“Our series has been engaging with millions and millions of customers every month, bringing in a whole new audience of younger families,” explained Cramond on its decision to put the digital series at the heart of its Christmas ad campaign.

And given M&S brought back it’s indulgent ‘food porn’ ads - ‘This Is Not Just Food… This is M&S Food’ – earlier this year, it made sense that the tagline would have a festive makeover. However, instead of the original enigmatic voiceover, McGuinness and Willis humorously do the job.

The Christmas spot features Fleetwood Mac’s track, Albatross, performed by the choir from Ysgol Gynradd Llwyncelyn primary school in Wales.

The Christmas campaign media plan splits into three areas. “TV advertising is still a great way to reach a massive audience,” said Cramond. “Our big TV campaign has 11 different commercials with different products running every single week. It's very much focused on the product proof points and the incredible value of the product too.”

It will also launch across social media, with new episodes of the ‘What's New at M&S featuring the celebrities set to run, similar to last year.

Agency split

Until recently, Grey London held both the M&S Food and non-food accounts, promoting them both under the 'Spend it Well' proposition.

However, to reflect internal changes, M&S held a pitch for its clothing and home business and appointed indie agency ODD to handle the brief.

This is the first year that the food and clothing and home campaigns for Christmas have been handled by two separate agencies.

"We work really closely together with our clothing and home accounts part. As with any other kind of multi-agency work within any business, you always have to make sure that those agencies work well together," said Andy Hill, head of M&S Food's creative, content and comms, about the changes.

"They have their strategy, and we have our strategy, we make sure the briefs are very aligned. We make sure when we come back with content that's aligned."

He also said, crucially, both food and clothing and home work with the same media agency - Mindshare.

Cramond added that they all sit in the one building and work closely together. "And most importantly, if you walk down the high street and you walk past an M&S store you've got the food window and then the clothing and home window which feel very much like they're from the same brand," she added.

Disappointing sales

The Christmas ad drops in the wake of yesterday’s disappointing sales report, that confirmed the retailer’s profits had dropped in the first half of its financial year.

Pre-tax profits tumbled by 17% to £176.5m on total sales which were down 2.1% to £4.86bn.

However, M&S’s Food business saw a 0.9% growth in sales, outperforming clothing and home, where sales dropped 5.5%.

On top of that, M&S’s online business climbed only 0.2%. However, with its £570m deal with Ocado just around the corner in 2020, things could look to boost next year.

Last year, M&S reported a fall in sales during its crucial Christmas trading period, down 2.2% in the 13 weeks to 28 December.

Hill declined to comment on specific targets set for the campaign.

"We do know our market share doubles at Christmas time. It's a really important time of year for us. The one thing we found out last year is that when we put specific products on the TV, is those products do really well."

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