This year’s Christmas ads might be big budget tearjerkers, but they’re nothing if they don’t drive positive business impact over the season.

Aware of this, Morrisons underwent a precise and scientific process with its festive campaign this year, which included analysing the ad frame by frame to ensure every moment is as effective for the brand as possible.

And the strategy appears to have paid off. According to effectiveness company System 1, with which Morrisons worked to optimise its ad, this supermarket’s campaign is the second most creatively effective this year, with a star rating of 4.7 stars out of 5.5. It comes behind rival supermarket Aldi, which has a score of 5. A brand’s star rating is a prediction of long-term market share gain as a result of the ad.

“The way we’ve approached Christmas this year, and the way we’re increasingly approaching all our brand communications, is about getting to that sweet spot of the alchemy between the creative art and the marketing science, to get really emotionally engaging work that’s highly effective,” Morrisons’ marketing communications director Alex Rogerson tells Marketing Week.

For Morrisons, effectiveness is deemed a matter of how well the ad persuades consumers to buy products, whether it gives them a better experience, whether it makes consumers feel “more warmly” towards the brand, and whether it makes them more likely to recommend the retailer to their friends and family.

“It’s all those classic metrics that ultimately mean people return willingly and more often,” Rogerson explains.

The ad began as a typical advertising brief for Morrisons’ creative partners at Publicis Poke, asking for an ad that continued the brand’s new ‘Make Good Things Happen’ platform throughout Christmas in a way that connects with consumers. Looking for an idea that was rooted in what Morrisons does as a retailer, Publicis Poke landed on the idea of Farmer Christmas, a new Christmas hero which builds on the supermarket’s ongoing support for British farmers.Morrisons introduces ‘Farmer Christmas’ to champion work of British farmers

Once the idea was formed, Rogerson and his team were keen to get into the execution of the ad on a more scientific level.

“It’s the increased benefit of the scientific techniques that drives effectiveness and squeezes every pip of every frame to really optimise the work in the time that we’ve got,” he explains.

Enlisting the help of System 1, Morrisons was able to compare and test its ad against a database of 70,000, tested with 10 million people in 90 countries. The database measures and ranks ads based on the emotional response of viewers, providing signposts for the creative team and support to back Morrisons’ creative judgement.

Before production, the initial story idea was tested with audiences, giving guidance on what moments to remove or add for increased effect. For example, a shot of Morrisons’ green trucks was added “very deliberately” after testing, to improve attribution and ensure people knew which business the ad was for.

The sequencing and weight given to different scenes was also guided by the reaction of audiences during testing. The shot of the feast at the end of the ad was found to create the most emotional resonance, driving a “happiness spike”, so more time was given to that scene in the final edit.

The soundtrack was decided in a similar way. “We were very surprised at quite how significantly change was in overall emotional impact based on the track we went with,” Rogerson says. The supermarket ended up going with a song it had composed itself as a result, instead of a more well-known track that ultimately didn’t seem to fit the narrative as well.

He adds: “Once we’ve entered that pre-production phase we know we’re making that ad, but each of those checking points allow us to optimise for maximum joy, maximum surprise, all those emotional impacts that we want to have with consumers that ultimately mean the ad is going to cut through.”

Later, after production, the ad was broken down frame by frame to establish effectiveness on a more granular level and dial up or down the final executions.

Rogerson says this increased focus on the science behind Morrisons’ advertising “100%” comes as part of an increasing focus within the marketing team on delivering effectiveness.

“We are continuously talking about an effectiveness mindset at Morrisons and it’s definitely something we are focused on as a team and increasingly investing in,” he says. “Investing in our people, in our processes, our partners and our techniques to turbocharge [the results].”

The development of Morrisons’ communications platform, launched this summer, was a “real breakthrough moment” for the brand’s effectiveness journey, he adds. It also marked the first time the supermarket partnered with System 1 on the testing and optimisation process.‘Food can be a force for good’: Morrisons launches first ad as part of new brand positioning

“That was an entirely new, fresh communications vehicle,” Rogerson explains. “Obviously I want to create contemporary communications which connect with today’s customer, but I also need to make sure I’m speaking to all of our 10 million customers who shop every week and not leave anybody behind.

“We really stepped up our involvement [with System 1] through the summer through the development of that campaign and I was really impressed with how it helped me make more insight-led decisions on creative development, on top of the instinct we all have to have as marketers.”

On top of creative effectiveness, Rogerson says the brand has also been working to ensure the effectiveness of its media buying, targeted communications, and loyalty and lifecycle marketing.

“What drives purchase behaviour is in everything we do. It’s in our DNA,” he adds.

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