By Matt Pigott - December 18th, 2015

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M & S doubles down on digital over the holidays, leading to a massive spike in engagement

In marketing, light bulb moments that smack of originality are rare, and that’s doubly true during the holidays. Even when they do come along, committing to them is difficult. It’s quite a risk spending big on something that somebody else hasn’t already, in one form or another, tried and tested.

At no time is taking a pragmatic approach more important than at Christmas. In its The Art of Christmas campaign, UK supermarket chain Marks & Spencer (M&S) decided the best way to aggregate information that could be translated into innovative campaigns was to collaborate with its target audience.

By first talking and listening to its customers M&S discovered that, contrary to seeing or viewing Christmas as a single, all-consuming event, they in fact saw Christmas as (in the words of the company’s executive director of marketing and international, Patrick Bousquet Chavanne) a “series of mini-moments and emotions”.

Seeing things from all angles

In taking a prismatic rather than uniform approach to Christmas promotions, M&S succeeded in giving consumers a campaign that reflected their deeper views, not one that was prescriptive. Depicting the various moments and emotions that consumers experience around the festive season, steering away from the ‘Christmas epic’, marks a break from accepted advertising traditions. What’s interesting is that, in 2015, this makes sense.

Consumers are increasingly looking for more personalized relationships with brands, experiences that go beneath the skin, so what M&S has done seems inspired. In reality, though, all M&S has done is listen carefully, believe wholeheartedly and respond accordingly.

The Art of Christmas

Rapidly running through an episodic staging of key Christmas moments in seven parts, this compilation advert exaggerates and emphasizes, often by way of larger than life props and theatrical dance sequences, the moments that constitute the 48 hours or so before and after the opening of presents on Christmas morning.

There’s The Art of the Night Before (wrapping presents and getting ready), The Art of Noise (delighted children jumping about on fantastically oversized beds) and The Art of Forty Winks (the family crashing out on a gigantic sofa), marking just three of the seven ‘Art of...’ themes that get crammed into the heady one-minute advert.

Appealing to the time-strapped digital generation, there are several twenty-second edits focusing more specifically on these key themes. In addition, Adventures in Christmas makes up a separate compilation starring mouth-watering food moments (‘food porn’ as it’s dubbed in the UK), and these tantalizingly choreographed close-ups showcase the various Christmas victuals that can be bought in-store.

Engagement and rewards

When people believe they are engaged with a company that shows, through its marketing efforts, a level of understanding often missing in less objective campaigns–especially around large seasonal events such as Christmas–they are more likely to reward themselves by doing business with that company.

Let the Sparks fly

But the Marks & Spencer campaign is smarter even than this because 2015’s The Art of Christmas campaign was first aimed at people who had recently signed up to M&S’s new loyalty membership scheme: Sparks. In itself, Sparks has been hailed a game-changer, raising the bar that other supermarkets now have to reach for.

By focusing squarely on digital, it has successfully pulled the app, online, and in-store experiences together under a single umbrella. It’s something that other supermarkets have attempted, having varying degrees of success, but with none quite nailing it–mostly because their schemes have been too complex. But Sparks promises milestone moments in points collection, adding a gamification element to the often-mundane pursuit of food and fashion shopping. Personalized offers available to customers based on their in-store buying habits and preferences (rather than generic discount offerings) help to drive engagement.

The 14 days of Sparks launch ensured a rapid uptake of the card with around two-million people signing up for it in the UK. M&S’ collaboration with 600 of its own customers for The Art of Christmas, and around 100,000 Sparks members to get its advertising campaign and loyalty scheme right is a sure sign of a company putting its customers’ ideas and opinions before its own. And it’s this attention to human detail along with the compulsion to satisfy that ultimately helps to drives sales and profit.

Significantly, none of this could have been achieved without an overhaul of M&S’s digital infrastructure. With the addition of a 360 view customer analytics platform, it appears that the current board at M&S have their hearts set on taking a 140-year-old company into the digital era, one in which personalization is taken to be as important as socialization, and where technological innovation is the key factor in fusing the two together.  

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