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M&S Food on boosting its enticing Christmas ads with a smart media and CRM plan

Earned media driven by its social media channels is also crucial to M&S’s strategy

The success of Marks & Spencer’s food division is a famously bright spot for the struggling retailer. Last week, it unveiled a scrumptious series of Christmas ads shot with its signature ‘food porn’ panache. However, as marketing director Sharry Cramond explains, the brand plans to deliver both style and substance in a festive season like no other before it, thanks to a smart CRM, media and social strategy.

Last week, Marks & Spencer (M&S) posted its first loss in almost 100 years as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, stores shuttering and falling clothing and homeware sales.

However, one bright spot in its financial update was its food business, which saw a new joint venture with Ocado drive sales by almost 50% and squeeze out positive sales growth of 2.7% in the six months to November.

Where its clothing division has forgone a glitzy Christmas campaign in favour of a lower key “digitally-focused” campaign ahead of the critical holiday period, the food arm of M&S is going big on its end of 2020 marketing push.

As lockdown 2.0 rumbles on in England, pressure is on M&S's Food business to pull the rest of the business through this holiday trading period. That’s why, as its marketing director Sharry Cramond, explains to The Drum, CRM coupled with a smart earned and paid media plan will underpin the Percy Pig purveyor’s seasonal spectacular.

Last week, M&S unveiled a star-studded campaign from Grey which hears celebrities such as Olivia Colman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Gillian Anderson, Dame Helen Mirren, and Jeremy Irons, Dame Julie Walters, Naomie Harris, and Tom Hardy, lend their voices to M&S’s famously indulgent food ads.

Showcasing everything from its glittering ’Light Globe Gin Liqueur’ to its mini Yorkshire puds, each celebrity who narrates the ad is handing their fee over to charities of their choosing. M&S Food will also donate an additional £1m across a diverse range of organisations including Shelter, Together for Short Lives and the 35 charities it supports through its Sparks card loyalty scheme.

Running across TV, social and print, M&S Food hopes to reach more than 47 million adult shoppers across the UK during the campaign with a targeted mix of TV, social media and print.

TV, smart social and CRM

“If anyone says TV is dead then they’re wrong,” says Cramond, pointing to data from Thinkbox that shows the average viewers watches 41 ads a day on average, with the UK collectively viewing 2.5 billion ads a day via live TV.

“TV is really important to us,” the marketer adds, saying that within four days of its launch M&S Food’s first TV ad narrated by Olivia Colman was seen by 34 million adults. Over its run, the ad is projected to reach 98% of “busy families” in the UK with viewers seeing an M&S spot an average of 29-times before Christmas day.

Where TV is vital to M&S Christmas strategy, so too is social media – the retailer claims to have a bigger following on Facebook and Instagram than any other food retailer.

Since 2018, the brand has been working with a cohort of ‘celebrity taste testers’ who sample its new ranges and share their favourites with their followers.

“That program has been going from strength to strength. In lockdown views around our ‘taste tester’ content increased by two-and-a-half fold,” asserts Cramond. Just in time for Christmas, she says, the brand has added regular This Morning fixture Andi Peters and Olympian Tom Daly to the panel.

Earned media driven by its social media channels is also crucial to M&S’ strategy. It’s head of brand communications, Robbie Black, says early experiments with TikTok – which the brand recently used to create a Love Actually-style spoof using its famous Percy the Pig and Colin the Caterpillar characters have driven mass interest (along with its now-infamous ’Santa Yum Nut’ Christmas special).

“TikTok has become an increasingly big channel for us,” he says. “That Love Actually recreation completely exploded.”

Cramond goes on: “That blew up on the Daily Mail. I’m sure people thought that was an advertorial, it wasn’t… just by using TikTok and social media we’ve managed to drive huge growth this year in the Percy Pig brand.”

CRM is also crucial to driving people onto M&S website and into stores ahead of Christmas day. Cramond claims she has “never seen email open rates” like those at M&S Food.

The retailer sends out regular recommendations direct to customers’ inboxes. Most of its database its signed up to its Sparks card reward scheme, with its emails going out to 8.6 million people a day.

A recent Halloween special had an open rate of 60%.

“It’s another way for us to get our message out to people. But those numbers show that people really want to hear from M&S Food,” says Cramond.

First Christmas with Ocado

After striking a partnership with M&S this year, Ocado has added thousands of new customers owing to the boom in online grocery shopping amid the pandemic.

In the 12 weeks to 4 October, Ocado increased sales by 41.9%, buoyed by a deal with M&S that launched at the beginning of September, to be its flagship supermarket partner.

“This is our first Ocado Christmas. We know that customers are buying more online than ever before... Ocado are going to have a really strong Christmas and they have most of our range but we also have our own online businesses – like our hampers business, which is in triple-digit sales growth this year,” explains Cramond.

Flower delivery and food gifting has also been a source of revenue gain for M&S this year, with Cramond adding that advance orders for M&S Christmas food click-and-collect service have been piling in early this year as customers look to “get ahead” of the festive season”.

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