Marks & Spencer has eschewed a John Lewis-style blockbuster Christmas ad in favour of a TV and social media campaign starring Celebrity Juice duo Holly Willoughby and Keith Lemon with a sharper focus on its products and prices.
So instead of blowing this year’s marketing budget on a cinematic ad, M&S has decided to spend the cash on airing it.
Nathan Ansell, its director of marketing for clothing and home, said customers would see the ad 10 times as often as last year’s: “It’s a more efficient use of our spend. CGI [computer-generated imagery] is quite expensive. The world’s moved on [from blockbuster Christmas ads] … The most important thing is people remember the product and come out and shop.”
With M&S’s female customers typically aged over 50, the presence of Willoughby is part of the retailer’s drive to attract younger female shoppers. In the ad the 37-year-old daytime TV presenter wears a series of outfits including a £35 leopard-print miniskirt and an £89 purple coat.
But the big question is whether shoppers will actually be able to buy Willoughby’s outfits. The TV star curates a seasonal collection of her clothing “must-haves”, but some of the autumn picks, such as a £49.50 leopard-print dress, sold out in some sizes within hours, with Steve Rowe, the boss of M&S, admitting it was “letting customers down”.
However, ahead of the launch of Willoughby’s festive wardrobe choices Ansell said: “We have learned from that and made sure we have got more stock for customers.” The ad features 15 times as much M&S product as last year, with Ansell describing it as a more commercial approach designed to drive sales.
The crowd-pleasing ad, which airs for the first time on Tuesday, features a guest appearance from the model David Gandy doing the washing-up in a pair of Marigolds, and a homage to Bridget Jones designed to flog its Christmas knitwear.
Keith Lemon, the irreverent alter ego of comedian Leigh Francis, is also a surprise addition to the festive episode of its Instagram food series, which already features Amanda Holden and Paddy McGuinness.
Retailers’ festive commercials kick-start the annual battle for hearts and minds in what is dubbed the “golden quarter”, with £98.8bn expected to be spent at UK shops and online in the last three months of 2018, according to analysts at GlobalData, which is a small increase on last year.
While Aldi, Tesco, Boots and Argos have already kicked off their campaigns, Britons are still on tenterhooks ahead of the launch of the main event, the John Lewis ad, which this year is expected to feature Elton John.
But with high street chains, including John Lewis, struggling amid weak consumer confidence, there is evidence that some retailers are scrimping on their Christmas TV ad spending this year. ITV, which accounts for about half the £4.5bn UK TV ad market, has warned that it is braced for an 8% fall in advertising spend in December.
After reporting its worst foodhall sales for a decade this week, the low-key M&S food ads make a virtue of its lower prices and are a departure from the “food porn” commercials of old. However, the campaign got off to a rocky start after the hashtag #MyMarksFave was hijacked by shoppers complaining about poor service in its foodhalls, its high prices and local store closures.
“While it has been a year of retail failures, profit warnings and store closures so far, the golden quarter offers retailers the opportunity to gain sales from consumers who are finally ready to prioritise shopping,” said GlobalData analyst Patrick O’Brien.
However, he predicted low consumer confidence and confusion over Brexit would hit sales of high-priced gifts, while discount chains would benefit from shoppers looking to save money where they could.