M&S bets big on Christmas clothing ad as consumer demand exceeds pre-pandemic levels

Clothing and home marketing director Anna Braithwaite is hoping to re-establishing M&S in key fashion and gifting categories this Christmas with one of the biggest campaigns the business has ever executed.

Marks & Spencer is encouraging its clothing and home customers to put together an extraordinary Christmas this year with one of its biggest ever campaigns, as the retailer’s own research reveals that after the disruption of last year’s festive season, this year means “more than ever” to consumers.

Unveiled today, the spot – created by ODD – shows off a range of clothing in a whimsical musical world, with the star of the ad dancing through iconic Christmas moments, from shopping for presents to relaxing on the sofa in family pyjamas. It closes with the campaign’s tagline: ‘Make the season anything but ordinary’.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Anna Braithwaite, marketing director of M&S’ clothing division, says the campaign is a “modern take on the nostalgia of Christmas”.

Demand for gifts this Christmas is likely to unusually strong, as according to M&S’ recent ‘Family Matters’ report, almost four in ten (39%) of families in the UK plan to do more to mark Christmas this year than they did before Covid-19 began, while 68% of people plan on getting together for a big family Christmas.

Whilst we know that a lot of the Christmas journey will be online and digital this year, our stores are fundamentally incredibly important to our customers.

Anna Braithwaite, M&S

As a result, customers are already well underway planning for the day, with nearly half of respondents expect to have finished their Christmas gift shopping by the end of November – earlier than the retailer has observed in the past. ‘Create your own’ wreaths, table centres and flowers are all already selling “incredibly well”, M&S claims.

“We wanted to tap into the fact that it’s not just about Christmas Day or the gifting, it’s the entire Christmas festive season we’ve missed out on. Going for a Christmas lunch with colleagues, meeting up with family, even Christmas shopping. Those very traditional moments that our customers haven’t been able to have,” Braithwaite says.

“The insight we did showed what is really important for customers this year is to go back and try and have that traditional, beautiful Christmas. It means more than ever for them.”

The campaign forms part of M&S’s new ‘Anything but Ordinary’ brand platform for its clothing and home business, which the retailer launched in September to showcase its autumn/winter line. The launch marked M&S’s biggest clothing marketing push since the pandemic began, including its first clothing TV ad.

Braithwaite says the retailer will be running the platform throughout the next year, to instil a perception of M&S as being “anything but ordinary” for style, value and quality. The platform married “beautifully” with the festive season, she adds, as M&S hopes to help customers achieve the best Christmas they can.

Alongside M&S’s food campaign, the clothing and home creative will be executed across a range of channels, from TV and print cover wraps to TikTok and an activation at Waterloo station. Within TV advertising, video on demand will continue to be “key”, as M&S becomes the first UK retailer to use ‘Flowcode’, an innovation which allows a QR code to be worked into the 30 second version of the 60 second ad. Customers can then use the code to immediately buy products displayed on screen.

Braithwaite explains: “We know our customers are often dual screening and they love technology, so using ‘Flowcode’ means that while they’re in the comfort of their own home in front of a big screen, they can link straight to the product and shop anything in the ad.”

While TV “without doubt” drives impact for the brand, M&S is also executing a “huge” digital campaign, particularly on TikTok and Instagram. But Braithwaite is quick to add that the retailer’s stores are still important for the brand, as 60% of sales are still made in-store.

“It’ll be interesting to see what the balance is this Christmas,” she says. “But whilst we know that a lot of the Christmas journey will be online and digital this year, our stores are fundamentally incredibly important to our customers. We know they still love coming into store, they love seeing the product, they love the customer service.”

The customer journey should therefore be “absolutely seamless”, she says, with the moments seen within the advert mirrored in-store and online with specific gift shops.

The campaign claims a “huge” opportunity to see (OTS), with customers expected to see the advert about 14 times each. According to Braithwaite, this makes the campaign one of the biggest M&S has ever had for its clothing and home division.

And while the brand hopes to continue building its awareness and affinity scores, which Braithwaite says are already “incredibly high”, M&S is also keen to track the buzz around the brand after the campaign has launched.

She says: “Ultimately, it has been a turbulent time for retailers, so we need to try and re-establish ourselves in our key categories: knitwear, dresses, gifting. But for us it’s also about the buzz of the brand. M&S is back and we want our customers to love and notice us.”M&S hails success of turnaround plan amid profit forecast boost

While M&S has launched two separate campaigns this year for its food division and clothing and home business, the two share a focus on trust, quality and value. The retailer says both are part of wider efforts to “change perceptions” of the brand, with M&S hoping to improve style perceptions.

In line with the launch of its campaigns, M&S is also launching the full Christmas gift shop in-store and online across clothing, beauty and food today, which the business claims are the top three gifting categories for the UK public.

The performance of M&S clothing business had been faltering for years, culminating in a decline in like-for-like revenue of 6.2% over the financial year ending March 2020. With Covid hitting the business hard in the final weeks of the year, operating profit of the division was down 37% to £224m.

However, M&S noted a “good recovery” in its clothing and home division this year, with revenue up 92.2% on last year. The retailer credited its successful shift to more focused ranges, fewer promotions and a substantially smaller summer sale, which resulted in full price sales rising 9% on 2019/20. Yet, revenues were still down 2.6% on pre-Covid results.