M&S ditches blockbuster ads for Holly Willoughby in digital-first Christmas campaign

Marks & Spencer says the world has moved on from the classic blockbuster ad as it looks to target busy families on-the-go with an “unashamedly commercial” campaign.

Marks & Spencer has turned its back on its usual blockbuster Christmas ad this year and is instead looking to “win the hearts, minds and wallets of busy families who are on the go” with the help of Holly Willoughby, David Gandy and a lot of M&S products.

Waving goodbye to the likes of Paddington and Mrs Claus, the retailer’s director of marketing for clothing & home, Nathan Ansell, says it decided to take an “unashamedly commercial approach” this year to make sure the campaign played to its target audience while also building on the ‘Must Haves’ campaign it launched with Holly Willoughby in August.

“The world’s moved on [from blockbuster Christmas ads],” Ansell tells Marketing Week. “In the world of modern marketing a lot of the entertainment value comes through social sharing and we just wanted to change our approach and be a bit more commercial.”

From Bridget Jones singalongs to lounging in comfy pants, the campaign, created by Grey London and set to Tom Jones’ ‘Give A Little Love’, includes three main 60-second spots and three 20-second ads, while a range of exclusive content will run on social and YouTube.

I wouldn’t say [past campaigns] didn’t work but they did a different job. The job now is to get customers out shopping, on to the high street and into our stores.

Nathan Ansell, Marks & Spencer

The ‘Must-Haves That Make Christmas’ campaign – which features 15 times the number of products it did last year – will go live on social media at 6am on 13 November, with the first TV airing happening during ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

A number of alternative endings to the advert have also been created to keep customers engaged throughout the season.

READ MORE: The Marketing Week Christmas blog 2018

For the first time, M&S has taken a digital-first and mobile-orientated approach. While TV remains “an important part of the mix,” Ansell says it is a full funnel approach that will ultimately help to drive frequency.

“TV is all about setting the campaign up and driving awareness, but then moving into things like Instagram Shopping, Google Shopping and programmatic display,” he explains.

READ MORE: M&S shifts spotlight to value in biggest festive food campaign to date

“We really take customers all the way through the funnel because frequency is going to be the thing that really drives the turnaround and the transformation of this business. We’ll obviously be talking about great value to address our value perceptions and that will come through. It depends where you are in the funnel.”

Over the past few years, M&S has become known for its ‘feel-good’ festive TV ads. But as the retailer prepares to close 100 stores over five years to appease costly business rates, and move a third of its business online, Ansell says the job of the Christmas campaign has changed.

READ MORE: M&S boss – We’ve got to fix confusing Sparks loyalty scheme

“I wouldn’t say [past campaigns] didn’t work but they did a different job. The job now is to get customers out shopping, on to the high street and into our stores,” he explains.

“TV is a very rigid channel. Because we’ve got so much social content in there, so much opportunity to do things with short-term [media like social] and press, it gives us the opportunity to trade very effectively as we come into Christmas as well.”

This year M&S has matched the data it has on how its customers shop in the run up to Christmas to make sure it is “relevant and a part of that decision-making at the right time”, something it hasn’t done before.

As well as looking at sales – both its own and competitors’ – it is planning the campaign around when customers start sharing and searching for products online, and will be using print and out-of-home to “switch things on” as and when it needs to.