M&S takes digital focus with ‘It’s On’ Christmas campaign

The retailer is eschewing TV this year for a campaign it hopes will reach customers as they are “scrolling and shopping”.

Marks & Spencer is forgoing the traditional TV ad for its clothing and home business this year, instead launching a Christmas campaign that has a “digital media focus” and aims to inspire shoppers as they are searching for gifts.

The ‘It’s On’ campaign spotlights “fun” Christmas moments, from ‘outshining the tree’ in a sequin top to ‘going matchy-matchy’ in family pyjamas.

It will run across digital channels including video-on-demand, Pinterest and the M&S website, as well as non-digital channels such as print and store windows.

Non-digital channels will, however, have a digital element, with QR codes allowing customers to directly shop the range by scanning ads. The aim is to “turbocharge” growth online, where sales have risen 46% since the start of the pandemic and already account for around 40% of sales.

M&S clothing and home marketing director Nathan Ansell says: “While Christmas may feel different this year, we know our customers want to make it special for the ones they love, and that spirit is at the heart our campaign.

“We’re using a range of channels to reach our customers and with a digital media focus our aim is to tap into customers as they’re in a ‘scrolling and shopping’ mindset, inspiring them with festive gifts for all the family.”

While there might not be a traditional TV aspect to this year’s campaign, video will still play a key role. The company’s brand ambassador Holly Willoughby fronts a series of videos where she speaks for the nation and declares “baubles to 2020”.

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The videos showcase a range of festive products, from sequin tops for Zoom parties to pyjamas. There are more than 10 versions of the videos, with customers shown the one most relevant to them based on data such as search and information from its Sparks loyalty programme.

Talking to Marketing Week recently, Ansell spoke of the importance of taking a more data-led approach to its marketing.

“We can understand what customers are likely to be interested in even if they have never shown an interest in our own data,” he said. “Combining [first- and third-party data] to target customers more effectively should lead to happier customers and increased sales for us.”

The move to make use of VoD comes as IAB data shows audience viewing increased by 38% during lockdown. The videos will appear on services such as All 4 and ITV Hub across mobile, tablet and desktop devices, as well as on social media and YouTube pre-roll.

M&S will also be tailoring its radio ads, running local location callouts, regional accents and regional turns of phrase. This means, for example, that a customer in Cardiff might hear an ad that says “Santa sliding down chimneys from Roath to Llanishen” while in Liverpool they would hear “Aintree to Allerton”.

This local focus is increasingly important to M&S, with the company launching 350 store Facebook pages during the pandemic that reach up to 1 million customers every week.

Communications to reassure customers that shopping with M&S is safe amid Covid also remain important. M&S has just rolled out its ‘Book and Shop’ service on its app that enable customers to book a shopping slot and beat any queues there might be.

And while Christmas this year might be difficult, Ansell believes customers will still want to celebrate.

“2020 has taken away enough from us – most people are going to want to keep Christmas. We want to help customers celebrate, albeit in a different way. We might dress up for Zoom calls rather than parties. But customers will want to celebrate, and we want to be there for them when they do.”