Morrisons readies biggest festive campaign to make Christmas ‘special’

Morrisons is hoping to make Christmas special for its customers through a focus on both quality and price as it launches its biggest and most integrated campaign as it hopes to end a difficult year of declining sales with a festive boost.

Created by DKLW/Lowe, it features brand ambassadors Ant and Dec and is set to the classic festive song “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”, the TV ad shows “picture book” scenes such as the turning on of the Christmas lights or eating the first mince pie. It also shows how Morrisons will help customers make Christmas special for their families through its investment in in-store butchers, bakers and fishmongers and the value it offers through its fresh food and range of household brands – key differentiators in its battle with the discounters who have been stealing customers and share this year.

Unlike other retailers, which have eschewed a product push for an emotional brand story, the Morrisons ad will feature products including its fruited panettone, brussel sprouts and “Build your own gingerbread house kit”. Initially a 60-second version of the ad will run, although this will switch to a 30-second spot followed by a 10-second ad highlighting promotions such as two boxes of mince pies for £2.

Speaking to Marketing Week at a launch event today (11 November), Morrisons’ brand and communications director Mike Hoban said the decision to feature products was made because it is “the most important thing about Morrisons”.

“Our product is the culmination of everything Morrisons is about. It’s our products that customers buy and it’s our products that customers judge us by. We want to give people the reassurance that they don’t have to compromise at Christmas between price and quality because there is a British retailer that makes great products at a good price,” he said.

Morrisons’ ad will go live on YouTube on Thursday (13 November) evening ahead of its TV debut during Coronation Street on Friday. That is a week later than Morrisons launched its Christmas ad campaign last year and follows the decision to switch to a shorter promotional festive period as the supermarket looks to make its offering “simpler”.

Hoban said the shorter Christmas promotion period will enable Morrisons to concentrate its fire power in the crucial seven-week period ahead of Christmas. Despite this, he said Morrisons has spent more this Christmas than it did last year and will continue to run advertising for its Match & More loyalty scheme, ensuring consumers see more of the brand.

“We are spending more this Christmas than last year, we have innovative new activity so it’s the biggest Christmas for us all round. You’ll see more of Morrisons on TV this year than you did last, you’ll hear us more on radio and you’ll see us in press and outdoor,” he said.

Morrisons is hoping to show how it can make customers' Christmas special.
Morrisons is hoping to show how it can make customers’ Christmas special.

Morrisons is also integrating its sponsorship of Capital Radio’s Jingle Bell Ball and ITV’s Text Santa charity appeal into its campaign this year with the aim of engaging further with its core audience of young families. It also has a partnership with boyband Union J who have recorded a version of the track on the ad that will feature as a B side on their upcoming single.

The band will also be performing in Morrisons stores as Morrisons looks to entertain customers by making music “a centrepiece”.

Morrisons has had a difficult year, with the rise of the discounters Aldi and Lidl hitting its performance. Its most recent results showed like-for-like sales were down 6.3%, although this was an improvement on the previous quarter and Hoban said Morrisons is feeling “optimistic and upbeat” as it goes into the crucial Christmas shopping period.

Marketing Week caught up with Hoban to discuss Morrisons Christmas marketing plans and how they tie into its wider brand strategy.

Marketing Week: How does this Christmas campaign reinforce Morrisons’ brand position?

Mike Hoban: Morrisons called the state of the grocery industry very quickly and responded firstly with the I’m Cheaper campaign – a reassessment of the price position and restoration of value for the customer – and followed that up with Match & More. Now we follow that with the Christmas campaign which is very focused on what makes us different and distinct and offers a real insight into customers. Customers want something special, we have to demonstrate how we will make Christmas special.

A lot of people talk about an integrated marketing campaign and what they mean is a TV ad and a few tweets. What we’ve done is create a campaign that is truly integrated across advertising and sponsorship. The Jingle Bell Ball is really important for what it says about our brand and extending our national reach. Capital is listened to in London where we’re building our .com base but it’s also listened to in Yorkshire. 40% of the population of Yorkshire will hear an association between Morrisons and the Jingle Bell Ball 40 times. And then our sponsorship of Text Santa, where Union J will be singing in the idents and performing the song from the ad.

“Marketers often talk about above-the-line and below-the-line and sometimes even through-the-line but they don’t talk about behind-the-line.”

Mike Hoban, Morrisons brand and communications director.

MW: How do you involve store colleagues in Christmas?

MH: Marketers often talk about above-the-line and below-the-line and sometimes even through-the-line but they don’t talk about behind-the-line. We launched Christmas internally last Thursday, Union J came and performed, we gave colleagues the chance to win tickets to the Jingle Bell Ball. The brand makes a promise, the advertising tells people what that promise is but in a service business like retail it’s the people who work in the store who determine whether you deliver that promise. Advertising is as important for our staff as it is for our customers because it tells them what makes them better and different. We are featuring in our TV ad front and centre and proudly our butchers, fishmongers.

MW: Sales were down in the most recent results but there was an improvement. What role is marketing playing in turning around those sales declines?

MH: Marketing makes the promise to customers and the in-store experience delivers against that. It’s the old rule of marketing, tell people what makes you different and distinct and deliver that in customers’ experience and you’ll win. David Ogilvy once said you insult the consumer if you think a few vapid adjectives will do anything, it’s the combination of great marketing. We are running a marketing campaign, not an advertising campaign. If you look at how we’ve pulled together sponsorship, radio, outdoor, in-store and experiential we’ve got a campaign that will be industry leading.

It’s about sales, but we are also building the brand, raising awareness as we extend our reach as a national retailer and grow our ecommerce business and this campaign will be about customers numbers. Do we retain customers? We have 11 million customers a week – do they come back to us for Christmas? There are lots of temptations at Christmas, we want to hold onto our customers.

MW: Is the message getting through to customers?

MH: The Match & More launch has gone really well. We have 2 million people who have a card in their wallets already. The participation rates are better than we were expecting. All the metrics are looking very positive and so are the operational measure – the systems are working, our colleagues have embraced it. Consumers recognise that if you shop with Aldi and Lidl you are making a compromise and now they don’t have to. We are unique as a retailer saying you don’t have to compromise on quality and price.

MW: Morrisons has changed its marketing message a number of times this year, is there a risk there?

MH: We haven’t changed our promise, though we may have changed our articulation of it. For Christmas, every day low prices isn’t the right line. At Christmas we are saying we will make Christmas special, this is what consumers want to do. Straplines can be for Christmas not for life.


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