Why M&S believes a ‘great year of learning’ has set its clothing business up for Christmas

After a last minute overhaul of its initial creative concept in May amid the cost of living crisis, M&S is focusing on the power of community in this year’s Christmas ad.

Marks & Spencer’s clothing and home marketing boss is confident that a “great year of learning” has set the division up well for the festive season, as it launches its 2022 Christmas ad.

The retailer has been on a journey with its clothing and home business to drive improved style perceptions, attract younger shoppers, and ensure customers are considering its clothing offering across different categories instead of just browsing lingerie, for example.

“It’s been a great year of learning, and all of that has fed into Christmas,” marketing director Anna Braithwaite tells Marketing Week.

The retailer “knows the job to be done in marketing”, she says, adding that it has been keeping a close eye on key metrics to see what’s working and what’s not.

“We’ve increased the amount of insight that we have. We have monthly trackers, we have ongoing focus groups, and company shoppers,” she says.

“The customer is so central to everything that we’re doing and we’re speaking to our customers more than ever, whether it’s at a product level, a category level, or pre- and post-testing of advertising.”

Braithwaite is confident that all of this has put the business “in the right direction going into Christmas”.

You could see consumer sentiment and the state of the nation moving and [the ad] just wasn’t right, so we started again.

Anna Braithwaite, M&S

Listening to the customer was crucial in devising the retailer’s new Christmas ad, which launches today (4 November) after a total overhaul of the initial creative concept in May.

The ‘Gifts that Give’ campaign focuses on the power of community and of thoughtful gifting. The ad is set in a quiet neighbourhood, where each time an M&S gift is opened something unusual happens, which draws the family onto their street.

This Christmas M&S will be donating £1m to 1,000 community groups and good causes through Neighbourly, a community giving platform. The ad features some of the community groups that will benefit, from city farms to brass bands, and is set to the sound of Harry Style’s upbeat pop hit ‘Treat people with kindness’.

The festive campaign was developed carefully by the marketing team and its agency partner House 337, which listened closely to customers’ needs and priorities amid the cost of living crisis. It was highly important to Braithwaite and her team that the retailer struck the right tone this Christmas.

“At the end of May we completely changed the concept,” she claims. “We were quite a way down the route with a totally different concept, but you could see consumer sentiment and the state of the nation moving and it just wasn’t right, so we started again.”

It was crucial that the Christmas campaign resonated with all of M&S’s customers, she says, adding that as its customer base is very broad, the ad is aiming to reach everyone in the UK. And what customers are looking for is value, trust and quality in their retailers, she claims.

Keeping clothing and food separate for Christmas

Earlier this year, Braithwaite and M&S’s food marketing director Sharry Cramond spoke to Marketing Week about bringing the clothing and food marketing departments closer together.

“We’re always looking at how we can come together because I think together we’re stronger,” Cramond said at the time.

However, while the two marketing teams are working together “more than ever” on various initiatives – such as the ‘Look behind the label’ sustainability campaign – it is “absolutely” the right choice to have two separate ads for food and clothing and home, says Braithwaite.

 ‘Stronger together’: Why M&S’s food and clothing marketers are joining forces ‘more than ever

“The brands are in really different positions,” she says, adding that M&S Food is a “couple of years on” in its development, and that the two businesses have different competitor landscapes.

If M&S were to come up with one unified message across both divisions, it would risk “diluting the job to be done for both of us”, she states.

Although the food business may be further ahead in its brand transformation journey, 2022 has been “an incredible year” for M&S’s clothing and home division, Braithwaite adds.

Style perceptions are up fivefold, the number of customers aged under 45 has gone up by 7%, and market share has been gained in every category, she claims.



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