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This Isn’t Just Any Future, This Is M&S’s Future



INFLUENCER: Show-stopping creative will be the brand's saving grace as it looks to 2019, writes VMLY&R's Jon Sharpe

This Isn’t Just Any Future, This Is M&S’s Future

The high street’s woes have been well documented recently. Every day seems to bring another woeful business update, with Debenhams shares plummeting by 21% the other week. However, despite tough numbers in the results announced, there are glimmers of light on the horizon for M&S if it hones in on one magic word: creativity. Recent marketing overhauls and efforts are not going unnoticed, but the time is now for the brand to drive through a truly stellar creative strategy to successfully cut through in this digital age and, most importantly, turn things around for the long term.

To reflect the restructure between the brand’s food and clothing divisions, the M&S Christmas ads this year have been split strategically.

The food-focused creative will please those who adore the ‘food porn’ aesthetic its produce has come to be known for (although in truth, I could have done with a bit more food…). Hearing from loyal and engaged customers about their festive favourites was a nice touch, in that it felt genuine. The clothing and home creative revolves around both a TV and social media-friendly strategy – starring Holly Willoughby head-to-toe in M&S wear, and the irreverent Keith Lemon.

Noticeably, the ads are putting product front and centre – or at the top of the tree, as it were. A marked difference to some of the more tenuously linked, but arguably more famous campaigns of the season.

Moreover, extending the message beyond the ad itself and into conversations on social media by inviting the British public to name their M&S Christmas favourites is a great example of how brands are realising the importance of actually engaging with their audience.

However, brilliant creative needs to be properly activated with the digital world in which we live in mind. Rather than rushing to make new marketing plans work across digital, it’s a case of reevaluating how digital can genuinely make the creative ideas come to life.

Advertising is not solely about TV, social, print and online… let us never forget it is every opportunity to inspire, engage and drive ongoing commitment. Creativity is, and will always be, the master stroke. Whatever strategic and creative idea the brand alights upon, it needs to be used to best effect across the journey, right until the moment of purchase and beyond.

The category defining, unforgettable ‘food porn’ campaign that is set within our national consciousness - work that the team behind it is proud of to this day - is an example of how culturally resonant and well-loved the M&S brand is. The campaign became iconic because the creative was intensely beautiful and the products were delicious (to look at, as well as eat) first and foremost. It set the standard for modern food communication. It didn’t just look good; we actually wanted to lick the screen. Focusing on what it is known for within British culture - indulgence, quality and comfort - and playing to its own strengths by channelling these elements into more of that show-stopping creative, will be the company’s saving grace as it looks to 2019 and beyond.

I suspect that taking the clarity of purpose in food (indulgence, quality, comfort) and making it live and breathe within clothing and homewares is the real key to success.

Creativity is the last competitive advantage in business. This is a brand which must survive, for the sake of the high street and to do so, it must deploy every weapon in its creative armoury to really make the brand (and business) sing again. For M&S I’d say the proof is in the (oozy chocolate) pudding.

Jon Sharpe is Europe CEO at VMLY&R

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VMLY&R London, Wed, 28 Nov 2018 15:16:34 GMT