The magic behind M&S’s Xmas ad

The view from the Taylor household is that the Marks and Spencer Xmas campaign, ‘Christmas with Love from Mrs. Claus’, has outdone John Lewis this year for combining emotional ‘sizzle’ and ‘product sausage’ (an entertaining 3 minute masterpiece below). So it was interesting to get some first-hand insight into the campaign from Ira Dubinsky, the UK retailer’s “Head of Christmas” (job titles don’t come cooler than that). Below I share some highlights from our conversation, supplanted with extracts from Ira’s recent blogpost on the campaign.

1. Building on insight

The first insight that inspired the campaign was about the relationship between M&S and the gift purchaser/giver. “Whilst M&S is known for amazing Christmas food and gifts, these products are made even more amazing when the customer adds their own special touch,” explained Ira. “For instance, a Christmas tree is just a tree until you decorate it and a joint of meat is truly made special when you serve it as the centrepiece in your Christmas meal.” In the case of the Mrs Claus campaign, a boy is portrayed choosing just the right model and colour of shoe for his sister.

The other key insight in developing the campaign related to the core target. M&S serves customers with a broad demographic profile. But female customers are particularly important and even more so at Christmas, playing the central role in most family celebrations. M&S cleverly recognises and celebrates women by dramatising the role that Mrs Claus plays, portraying her in a modern and glamorous way, with Santa being only a supporting character in the story.

2. Brand as co-star

The part of this story about the love expressed by the gift giver is close to where John Lewis have played in past years. However, as I posted here, this year they moved away from this with their Boxer campaign, a much less emotionally compelling and heart-tugging story. This leaves a nice space for M&S to fill. The Mrs Claus campaign also gives a major role to the brand, bigger than the one John Lewis has in their campaign. The story brings to life “the incredible alchemy that results when customers and M&S come together,” as Ira puts it.

3. Add some sizzle

The M&S campaign tells a story about the brand and product offer (sausage) in an emotionally compelling way (sizzle). This emotional story-telling component aids processing using ‘system 1’ thinking that is “automatic, unconscious and impulsive”, as Ira points out, helping create distinctive memory structure. Importantly, the M&S brand, brought to life as Mrs Claus, plays a central, starring role in the campaign.

Further sizzle was added by getting the very best talent involved to deliver top-notch production values. I was amazed to hear that Ira and the team managed to get Tom Hooper, the director of Oscar-winning movies The King’s Speech and The Danish Girl, to direct the film; what a coup. This helps explain why it such spectacular and amazing looking mini masterpiece.

4. Amplify with social media

The Mrs Claus campaign is a good example of ‘old’ and social media working together to amplify one another. The team launched the brand film simultaneously on TV and online. To encourage people to talk about the brand online, M&S partnered with Twitter to create a cute custom emoji when people used the hashtag #lovemrsclaus.

A ‘war room’ of writers and designers were on hand to respond in real-time on social media, publishing personalised responses. Mrs. Claus poked fun at Aldi’s carrot being food for the Claus reindeer invited kids to write letters to her. Ira and the team were “overwhelmed by both the volume and sentiment of the conversation.” Within hours thousands of contacts had taken place with 98% positive. It seemed that “People were falling in love with Mrs. Claus”.

5. Sell more stuffLast and definitely not least, the campaign helped sell more stuff. How refreshing to see some commercial nous being brought to social and digital media. Ira worked with the product teams to create Mrs Claus merchandise, so you can ‘buy the look’ by clicking on ‘Mrs Claus’ Picks’ and, of course, purchase the red shoes given as a gift in the film.

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In conclusion, Christmas with Love from Mrs. Claus builds on insight to create a distinctive communication campaign that tells a brand story in an emotionally compelling way, amplified digitally to connect and sell more stuff.