Helping M&S deliver Christmas

mrs claus.jpg

M&S approached Flamingo in January 2016 to help agree a creative direction for its Christmas campaign. The Christmas ad is the Superbowl of the advertising calendar for UK retailers, and department store John Lewis has traditionally led the festive ad race. But in 2016, Marks & Spencer had a new CEO, a new brand purpose, and an aim to steal the Christmas crown from John Lewis and restore its reputation as a national treasure.

With just three weeks until the Christmas merchandising deadline, the research brief had been framed as a disaster check on a pre-selected ‘favourite’ route, against two other options. 

Flamingo pioneered a new methodology – the Creative Sprint – which involved holding a working session the day after fieldwork with M&S’ Customer Insight Unit, brand and marketing stakeholders, and the ad agency.

This approach paid dividends when the Flamingo team realised that the favoured route, despite ticking all the superficial boxes of being festive, engaging and easy to activate and merchandise, fundamentally lacked own-ability, and also lacked the magic and sparkle that people expect from M&S at Christmas. Another route had a number of executional issues, but contained the germ of an idea; at the end of the ad, it wasn’t Santa who delivered the Christmas gift, but Mrs Claus.

Flamingo’s conviction in championing this route began with a single respondent saying: “I am Mrs Claus.” In the character, women saw their authentic, aspirational selves, and as a result felt that M&S understood them and the pressure they faced to execute the ‘perfect Christmas’. This was a significant breakthrough given that women are so often poorly represented in advertising.

Since all the key decision makers were at the working session, the strengths of Mrs Claus could be negotiated and the decision was made to run it instead of the original favoured option, despite the fact that the team had already started planning against it.

M&S them came back to Flamingo to inform the final edit of the Mrs Claus campaign and its 360° activation. To do this, Flamingo used paired mother and daughter sessions to capture the reality of how the ad would be received in the real world. These tapped into the emotional resonance of the ad within the typical family set-up of Christmas, and also served to move M&S away from an age mindset to a values-based one.

Once launched, the Mrs Claus campaign delivered impressive results for M&S: 

The Mrs Claus campaign delivered some impressive results:

  • M&S saw a sales boost of 2.3% on the previous year
  • The Per Una red dress worn by Mrs Claus sold 5,300 units
  • M&S was the most talked-about supermarket Christmas ad of 2016 (according to social media monitoring company Brandwatch) – by 18th Nov, one week after the release of the advert
  • M&S reached 40k mentions on Twitter between 11 Nov and 16 Nov
  • “Highly commended” for the marketing excellence award for connecting with consumers
  • Rated joint best Christmas ad by Brainjuicer

The project won the Market Research Society's Jeremy Bullmore Award for Creative Development

Ben Burton