Marks & Spencer’s Christmas food campaign will span TV, video-on-demand and news brands this year, but according to marketing director Sharry Cramond, social media is where the brand expects to see the biggest reach.

Launching today (4 November), the festive ad will be seen on TV by almost half of UK adults nearly three times each by the end of the day, the biggest launch day M&S Food has ever had for a campaign, kicking off its biggest campaign in several years.

However, Cramond tells Marketing Week that despite the “significant” investment in TV, social media “will be much bigger than anything” this year. A social pre-campaign to tease the launch of the ad is expected to reach 9 million people across the UK.

The retailer’s TikTok is already filled with videos of brand mascot Percy Pig dancing alongside M&S colleagues, with 130,000 followers engaged with its activity. In the last year a number of M&S TikToks have “gone viral”, including videos created by staff at the retailer’s Romford, Ashford and Longbridge stores.

We want to be more relevant, more often, to more customers, and TikTok is bringing us to completely different audiences.

Sharry Cramond, M&S Food

According to Cramond, TikTok’s value for M&S is in bringing a new, younger audience to the brand.

“We want to be more relevant, more often, to more customers, and TikTok is bringing us to completely different audiences,” she says, quoting a comment from customer research in which one young customer said “M&S food was my nan, now it’s me”.

The brand is also keen to grow with its family audiences and as such has struck partnerships with family-oriented social media ambassadors, including the likes of comedian Paddy McGuinness. However, M&S says TV will remain an “important way” of reaching this audience.

Earlier this year, Cramond told Marketing Week that M&S’s “close relationship” with customers on social media played a key role in the decisioning around its biggest ever quality food campaign.

In March 2020, at the start of the first national coronavirus lockdown, the supermarket set up a Facebook account for every one of its stores. These have evolved into a two-way communication channel for the retailer, reaching 2 million customers a week.

Percy Pig trots into centre stage

The festive campaign sees M&S’s longstanding brand character, Percy Pig, brought to life for the first time. The animated pig, voiced by Spiderman actor Tom Holland, is awakened in the night by the magic of a Christmas fairy voiced by Dawn French.

Created in collaboration with creative agency Grey London, the ad sees Percy Pig explore the M&S Stratford Foodhall, discovering the different foods the supermarket has on offer this Christmas. The ad ends on a play of the brand’s famous slogan, stating: “This is not just Christmas food, this is M&S Christmas food”.

Bringing Percy Pig to life in the campaign seemed a “natural evolution” for the character as it approaches its 30th birthday, M&S Food’s head of brand communications Robbie Black explains: “We’ve seen him get married, have a family, appear across all sorts of different merchandise, and across the last year or so he’s also become phenomenally popular on TikTok.

“He’s also a character who is synonymous with M&S Food.”

Agreeing, Cramond says Percy Pig is M&S Food’s “most well known and recognised character”, even more so than Colin the Caterpillar.

“Customers absolutely love him,” she adds. The marketing team tested different ideas for the Christmas campaign with customers, but none resonated as much as this ad. M&S therefore has “very big plans” for the character in future, Cramond says, and his social media career “has only just started”.Is it time for a brand character renaissance?

But while Percy Pig and the Christmas fairy lead the narrative of the story, the ad is still product-focused and “all about the food”, with each week of the eight week campaign highlighting a different product range.

The campaign launches with a 60-second ad on TV and video-on-demand, followed by seven ads exploring different food ranges. New content will therefore be released from now until the new year.

On top of driving trade and brand metrics, the campaign has been designed to engage M&S’s 70,000 colleagues in-store. “You can see on our store’s social media what a difference colleagues can make to a business,” Cramond explains.

Demand for gifts this Christmas is likely to be unusually strong, as according to M&S’ recent ‘Family Matters’ report, almost four in ten (39%) families in the UK plan to do more to mark Christmas this year than they did before Covid-19 began, while 68% of people plan on getting together for a big family Christmas.

As a result, customers are already well underway planning for the day, with nearly half of respondents expecting to have finished their Christmas gift shopping by the end of November – earlier than the retailer has observed in the past. Sales of ‘Create your own’ wreaths, table centres and flowers are all already performing “incredibly well”, the retailer claims.

M&S’s separate food and clothing, and home campaigns are part of a wider effort to change brand perceptions and are central to the retailer’s ongoing transformation strategy. In food, value has been an ongoing major focus as the grocer hopes to attract families.

In line with the launch of its campaigns, today M&S is rolling out its full Christmas gift shop in-store and online across clothing, beauty and food – which the retailer claims are the top three gifting categories for the UK public.

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