Christmas ads, M&S and Uber: 5 things that mattered this week and why

M&S bets on data to make it ‘great again’

M&S Christmas ad featuring Paddington Bear
M&S’s Christmas ad this year features Paddington bear

Marks & Spencer is betting big on data and personalisation in a bid to regain its position as a leading retailer.

CEO Steve Rowe said, 20 years ago M&S was “one of the world’s leading retailers” and he believes it’s time to make the retailer “great again”.

He was reacting to the retailer’s half year results (released on 8 November), which showed that while pre-tax profits increased fourfold to £118m in the six months to 30 September, food sales slowed due to the pressure of a highly competitive market.

The proposed personalisation push will be driven by loyalty programme Sparks, which despite having seven million members Rowe insists is “nowhere near its full potential”.

“We want data analysis to become the glue that sits above our business units and underpins the brand. The relationship between Sparks, M&S Bank and online can help us to deliver truly personalised experiences,” he added.

These data driven, personalised experiences could well replace wider scale brand campaigns. M&S has been driving “savings” by running fewer, larger campaigns and reducing its in-store décor. In May, the retailer rationalised its messaging by bringing food, clothing, homewear and Plan A all under the single ‘Spend it Well’ positioning.

Spend is also down on Marks & Spencer’s Christmas 2017 campaign featuring Paddington Bear, as the retailer hopes it can benefit from the halo effect surrounding the release of the Paddington 2 film.

READ MORE: M&S: Data is the glue that underpins the brand

Uber invests in flying cars

Flying cars may sound like the stuff of science fiction but Uber is looking to make them a reality by 2020. Talking at Web Summit this week (8 November), the ride-hailing app announced it would be begin offering passengers in Los Angeles flights in drone-helicopter hybrids within the next three years – for the same price as a trip in an Uber X car.

The vehicles, which will be supplied and piloted by aviation manufacturers including Embraer and Aurora Flight Sciences, can travel at speeds of up to 200mph but make just 25% of the noise of a helicopter. Uber will also be partnering with Nasa to develop a new unmanned air traffic control system.

The brand’s ultimate aim is to “end individual car ownership”, by bringing down the price of its service (both on the roads and in the air) so it’s less expensive than driving. It’s a pretty bold ambition, but one that could potentially reduce congestion and pollution in the world’s busiest cities.

While flying cars may sound ludicrous, the fact Uber is continually innovating and looking for new ways to disrupt the market is significant, particularly given the turbulent year it’s had and the fact competitors are eagerly waiting in the wings to pick up the slack. Whether its plan takes off remains to be seen.

READ MORE: Welcome to the future – Uber pledges to bring flying taxis to LA by 2020

John Lewis unveils its annual Christmas ad

Other retailers might be keen to make their mark with their festive campaigns, but some say the countdown to Christmas doesn’t formally start until John Lewis reveals its ad.

Today the British retailer revealed the ‘Moz The Monster’ campaign in all its glory, featuring a young boy called Joe who is kept awake by a seven-foot imaginary monster called Moz who lives under his bed.

The two form a friendship and play together every evening, but staying awake through the night starts to take its toll on Joe, who can hardly keep his eyes open during the day. For Christmas, Joe receives the gift of a night light which helps him sleep – but this does mean Moz disappears.

It seems John Lewis was keen to move away from its previous humorous Buster the Boxer campaign by returning to a more emotive Christmas ad. Reviews have been mixed, with some marketers suggesting it did not leave them feeling fuzzy or warm inside.

“It is a beautifully made ad, featuring a beautiful child whose beautiful family live in a beautiful house but it left me feeling cold,” said Tanya Joseph, consultant, chair of The Pool and architect of the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign at Sport England.

READ MORE: John Lewis returns to ‘heartwarming’ Christmas ad with Moz the Monster

The big Christmas ad reveal

Christmas 2017

Christmas comes but once a year, so when it does retailers want to make sure they are making the most of it. And amid an economic environment that almost every marketer this week has called volatile, shaky consumer confidence and hits to ad budgets, this year it is even more important than ever to make a bang and start the Christmas season well.

So have the retailers fared? Marks & Spencer’s Paddington-themed ad looks like the one to beat. The combination of a cute story and a hugely popular character is going to prove hard to beat. Aldi has brought back Kevin the Carrot following last year’s success, while Debenhams is making a welcome return to emotional storytelling with an updated version of Cinderella.

The supermarkets (apart from Sainsbury’s which will release its ad on Sunday) are all much of a muchness. Continuations of their current marketing strategies with some tinsel thrown in – although Morrisons’ ‘Free From’ spot showing a brother encouraging his sister is cute enough until the final scene somewhat ruins it.

You can catch up on all the ads here. Let us know what you think!

Brands can soon embed Facebook Messenger in their own websites

Facebook is extending its B2B commerce services for brands, by offering the ability to embed Facebook Messenger on their own websites as a customer service chat tool. It will allow brands’ responses to customer queries to come from either automated bots or customer services staff, and let them accept payments directly through the Messenger platform.

The rollout of Messenger 2.2 was announced at Web Summit in Lisbon this week and the update is currently in a closed beta testing phase with brands such as Argos, Aviva and Zalando. Facebook’s head of Messenger products Stan Chudnovsky said the aim is to replace cumbersome and inefficient call centres, which frustrate consumers.

However, he added: “We have to be transparent and make sure people know whether it’s a bot or a human answering them. The separation has to be very clear.”

Facebook Messenger will keep a user’s chat session constantly live, so all their interactions with a particular brand can be viewed in one place when they open a chat window. This will be possible across desktop, mobile and tablet devices.

Brands will also be able to use Messenger to send sponsored messages to users with open chat windows, and will have the option to add ‘share’ buttons, for example, to content sent through the chat app.

Chudnovsky denied speculation, however, that Facebook monitors the content of Messenger conversations in order to serve targeted ads: “The reality is people are using Messenger so much nowadays that the possibility of something they talk about then appearing as advertising in their browser is a lot higher. We’re not using anybody’s microphone or listening into conversations to target advertising, I can promise you.”

READ MORE: Facebook says ‘sky is the limit’ for Messenger as it brings customer service tools to brand websites