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Marketing Brand Safety Marks & Spencer

M&S x Status Quo. Idea: fine. Execution: shocking all over the world


By Ben Middleton | CCO and founder

February 6, 2024 | 8 min read

From the peak of Africa’s highest mountain, Creature’s Ben Middleton finds a moment to offer constructive criticism of an M&S ad many creatives balked at.

Status Quo featuring in an M&S ad

/ Status Quo featuring in an M&S ad

It has taken me approximately three flights, four minivans, and a maxed out step count, but I have finally made it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. This means I am now alone, staring into some of the strongest winds on the planet so I can start screaming at the top of my lungs… “WHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYY???”

Why the why? Well, last week, I was gently guided towards a piece of film from British retail stalwart Marks & Spencer. If you know, you know. A social-first film with Status Quo performing their 1977 hit ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’ in a local store.

Naturally, the lyrics were about saving money on groceries rather than rockin’. Seriously. Watch it. See you in four, yes four, mins. It feels like a difficult mountain ascent at points.

It’s no secret that the old guard of supermarkets have had their hams handed to them by the discounters in recent years. In the ensuing knife-fight, they do everything possible to keep their share of shoppers’ dwindling wallets. In this case, M&S used “the Quo” to point out that it is as cheap, sorry, “represents the same value” as the competition.

Now, ignoring that M&S Food has been positioning itself as a premium brand for as long as I can remember, the film is fun. It’s silly, and as someone says in the comments on the YouTube page, “Quo have never taken themselves too seriously,” so for the construct created here, they are a fit that works.

Sure, there’s a ropey rhyme using the word “Whoa,” but broadly, the lyric changes are smile-worthy, and in any case, if you can’t hear them, they are titled throughout so that you really, really don’t miss them. It's the good type of cringe I think. It’s also refreshing to see a brand make something quick and fun; getting “the Quo” onboard is an achievement.

Now to my why

I’m not here to slate the idea. I don’t LOVE it, but it’s doing a job. It is something that real people will like and the Adluminati won’t. (They’ll sneer and send it around, saying how naff it is). [Editor’s note: Yeah, I did that].

But it’s not for you. (Work should never be, but that’s another article).

So what’s your point, Ben? And why are you still here? Well, because despite all its achievements, it looks fucking dreadful, and the bargain basement production values and lack of craft have broken my heart.

DOPs matter - There doesn’t seem to have been one in this case.

Grades matter - This one seems to have been done on an iPhone — an old one.

Editors matter - Was enough time given for this?

Sound design matters - The sound on this is Bang & Orful.

Casting matters - The film uses real staff members and some public, and it is often clunky.

Stylists matter - No one in this film looks natural.

VFX artists matter - The titles slap on and off of frame with all the finesse of a wildfire hose.

Typography matters - you get the idea.

And, of course, decent directors matter. They can draw out a credible performance from the most amazing places. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the acting throughout this film is as ropey as a steak from Iceland.

When I saw this film, I felt a small part of the people who have spent the past fifteen years establishing M&S as a credible, high-quality brand die.

Remember, “This isn’t just any old chocolate pud”? Well, we’re not in high-quality Kansas any more, Toto.

As someone who has been running a successful creative agency for more than a decade, I have seen budgets decimated as the world rushes for short-term results with quick, cheap content rather than sustainable growth with best-in-class brand building. I understand that not every bit of communication comes with a big fat Apple-sized budget, but brands must recognize how vital production values are.

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Particularly M&S. In its efforts to compete with the discounters in a fun and disposable way, it has eroded years of hard work. This specific piece is in danger of dragging the brand from feeling like a premium, high-quality provider and making it look naff and cheap.

I know things are hard right now, and the economic bin fire we’re STILL living through isn’t making things any easier for us all, but we live in a world where brand perception couldn’t be more important. Ensuring that your production values are as good as they can possibly be not only matters but can be the difference between a brand surviving, thriving or dying.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pining for the olden days. The modern production techniques available to us now are wonderful, meaning we can tell customers stuff quickly and more frequently. However, brand values still matter, even if you are making stuff at pace and cost-efficiently.

In short, disposable content isn’t disposable. It is OK to make stuff that makes real people smile, but in the short to medium term, not adhering to the production values and brand cues that people spend decades building can negatively impact how people feel about the brand. Making sure we value what makes a brand special matters wherever and whenever it shows up, including when it is a film being bunged on a local Facebook page.

Marketing Brand Safety Marks & Spencer

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