Marketing Moments 2012: Marks & Spencer scores Christmas gold

M&S left rivals in the shade with a truly inspiring Christmas campaign

Retailers gorging on lavish Christmas ad campaigns have fast become the UK marketing industry’s answer to the Superbowl, and 2012 didn’t disappoint. Asda managed to alienate its target audience with a 50s-inspired overworked housewife, while John Lewis relied on schmaltz with another spot designed to pull on the heartstrings. But it was Marks & Spencer that took the Christmas gold and secured a well-earned place on 2012’s marketing moments of the year by standing for something bigger than simply getting the biggest share of consumers Christmas pounds.

A four-year-old boy with Down's Syndrome took a starring role in the retailer's Christmas campaign, following an impassioned Facebook campaign by his mother.

Caroline Playle took to Marks & Spencer’s Facebook page to ask it to use Seb in its Christmas campaign. She wrote: ‘My heartfelt plight is to get him ‘out there’ and get the message across that different isn’t any less wonderful – or even that different. My ultimate goal is to see him in an ad campaign to represent the many children out there starting school who are a little bit different but leading typical family lives.’ Her post was met with a torrent of support from Marks & Spencer’s Facebook fans and Seb appeared in the Christmas campaign.

In the words of Seb’s mum Caroline: ‘I also think using him could help create a truly original, bold and memorable campaign, which would fit perfectly with M&S’s family values and ethics’. She, of course, was right, so bravo to Steve Sharp and his marketing team.

The Upshot

What brands can learn from Marks & Spencers’ winning strategy

  • Beyond Crowdsourcing: Consumer Advocates

Marks & Spencer is one of a growing tranche of brands that recognise social media is about far more than simply collecting meaningless milestones such as 'likes'. Smart brands understand that listening and then responding to consumers lies at the heart of all good marketing. Sometimes the smartest ideas originate outside the Chinese walls of the marketing department.

  • Give consumers the diversity they want

The advertising and marketing industry is lagging behind society when it comes to truly embracing diversity. Marketers must always beware of presenting a narrow world view.

  • Beware the marketing fishbowl

In the pressure to deliver the next presentation or award-winning campaign, marketers are at risk of missing the bigger picture. Staying in touch with the wider world and the hopes, dreams and concerns of your consumers is key to not appearing out of touch. Listening is everything.

Was M&S your marketing moment of the year. Let us know what you think @MarketingUK @nickykc

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).