By Rebecca Stewart | Trends Editor

April 13, 2021 | 5 min read

As M&S Food launches its biggest ever ’quality campaign’ in collaboration with ITV Creative, its marketing director Sharry Cramond talks to The Drum about balancing provenance with brand value and offers insight into the structure of the brand’s new in-house creative setup.

Over the weekend, M&S Food launched a multichannel ad blitz, showcasing its farming partners and giving consumers an insight into how its products reach shelves.

Developed in collaboration with ITV creative, ‘Fresh Market Update’ comprises 73 product-specific documentary-style ads, which are to air over four months across ITV, Channel 4 and YouTube, each fronted by ITV meteorologist Lucy Verasamy.

Media placement is clever, with many of the spots – which focus on foods such as Scottish salmon and Cornish cheese – airing after the news and weather updates, furthering their educational tone. The TV campaign will be supported by an onslaught of content on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and other social networks.

All this is wrapped up with an email push linked to M&S Sparks loyalty card scheme, which will send its 10 million customers real-time updates about the products they’re scanning at the till and how they got into their basket. M&S Food marketing director Sharry Cramond says open rates already sit at around 50% for these kind of emails and can soar as high as 80%.

“We’ve run a campaign like this before and have very detailed econometric modeling to tell us the ROI,“ she says. ”And this, by far, is the most successful thing we’ve ever done. Customers want to hear these stories.”

As part of the push, M&S will also introduce 30 million bees to 28 selected partner farms this summer to boost pollination, “improve product quality and produce delicious British honey”. It’s also expanding its RSPCA Assured range to include fresh eggs, pork and trout among other produce.

Over the last 18 months, M&S has been on a journey to underscore the value of its brand and dispel the myth that its food is pricey through its ‘Re-Marks-able Value’ creative. Now, Cramond’s team are looking to strike the balance between driving that value proposition while maintaining M&S’s image as a quality brand.

Basket sizes have increased “considerably” in the last year, the marketer says, as people have started shopping more broadly in-store and online rather than dashing in to pick up “one or two items”. This campaign, she hopes, will up the number of families doing their weekly shop in M&S. The brand will track perception, sales and purchase data to ensure this multimillion-pound work delivers.

A new blended in-house creative model

The wholescale initiative is the first big bit of creative to come out of M&S Food since it relegated longtime creative agency Grey London to project work and handed the creation and production of its advertising to its in-house creative team.

Led by Robbie Black, its head of brand communications, the idea is that the small core team will afford the brand more agility and flexibility to work with a broader range of external partner. And Cramond says it’s working well so far.

“Although we don’t have a retained agency any more, it doesn’t mean to say we’ll never work with agencies. We want to use the right people for the right job.” For this campaign, that meant teaming up with ITV’s in-house agency. However, the content for M&S Food’s TikTok feed (which is gathering momentum among gen Zers) is produced in-house. Some other social elements are handled by indie agency Park District.

Former Grey executive creative director Rich Robinson has joined as head of creative and Rachel Amess (ex-Grey and Iris) has taken on the role of film production lead.

“By not having a retained agency, we can use the best talent in the industry – whether that’s freelancers or different sized agencies – for specific jobs. That approach is going unbelievably well.”

While it’s all change for M&S Food’s team, sales have been consistently strong for this arm of the business. In November, M&S revealed that its struggle with the impact of low clothing and homeware sales had driven it to its first loss in 94 years. However, M&S Food profits were up 19%, with half-year profits of £38.8m coming from its joint e-commerce venture with Ocado.

For Cramond, this success has also been buoyed by forging closer relationships with customers on social media.

In March last year, at the start of the first national coronavirus lockdown, M&S set up individual Facebook accounts for every single one of its stores. The original intention was to use the platform to communicate with local communities during the stockpiling rush.

Now, those Facebook accounts have evolved into a two-way channel for the retailer, reaching 2 million customers a week.

“It has been massive, not just in terms of getting messages out there but also in facilitating two-way communication. Engagement levels are very high, customers are also feeding back through the store social channels and we’re listening to them – they want to hear stories about where their food is coming from.”

Cramond says the ‘Fresh Market Update’ campaign will reach over 60% of the population throughout its run, with each person seeing the TV spots an average of 18 times.

Marketing Agency Models M&S Food

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