No UK brand has come close to capturing the nation’s heart over the Christmas period quite as well as John Lewis.
Over the last few years the release of the retailers’ Xmas ad has become as much a part of the festive period as the EastEnders Christmas Day special, It’s A Wonderful Life and Nan falling asleep on the sofa and a few too many sherries.
It’s meant other brands in the UK have had to raise their games to earn their place at the Christmas table.
One of the big contenders this year is M&S. Last Friday the retail brand released its festive offering, "Christmas with love from Mrs Claus". The ad stars British actress Janet McTeer as Santa Claus's helicopter-flying, super stylish and generally bad-ass better half, who saves Christmas by bringing a pair of red trainers to a little girl called Anna.
Sure, we may be still weeks away from popping the first box on our advent calendar, but already the ad has been shared almost 400,000 times, making it one of the top Xmas ads of the year. But will it bring M&S a Christmas to remember at the tills?
It’s still early days, but M&S has got off to a great start already, racking up almost 400,000 shares in less than a week. That puts it second so far in the list of the most shared Christmas ads of 2016, behind John Lewis’s Buster The Boxer.
"Christmas With Love From Mrs Claus" evoked an intense emotional response among 41% of viewers, rivalling John Lewis, which managed 43%.
Warmth, happiness and nostalgia were the top responses for M&S, as is typical for Christmas advertising.
However, the ad also wowed viewers with its unexpected storyline and special effects, and inspired them with its daring and stylish protagonist.
The result is an interesting contrast in emotions, which helps the brand to feel modern and gain cut-through against other seasonal advertising, yet still expresses traditional Christmassy warmth. In fact, 70% of viewers said that they thought M&S truly understood the spirit of Christmas.
The strong emotional response to the ad can also be seen when you look at the facial coding results, collected using Affectiva’s emotional analytics tech.
As you can see from the chart above, smiles became more common and more pronounced as the ad progresses, culminating in the final scenes between Mr and Mrs Claus.
At the start, viewers really responded to the snowy setting and warm, bantering relationship between Santa and Mrs Claus.
This then progresses to amazement, as Mrs Claus springs into action and jumps into a helicopter. They also found the scene when looks at the chimney and thinks better of it particularly funny.
Jake and Anna’s reconciliation was one of the most moving moments, but the final scene between Santa and Mrs Claus was the emotional highpoint of the ad, with a large peak in smiles (especially among women) at the line, "It wouldn’t be fun if you knew all my secrets".
Reasons to share it
A key component of any successful video campaign is that it encourages viewers to engage with the content. And M&S’s campaign certainly did that, giving consumers multiple reasons to share the video online.
Two-thirds (65%) said they would have some sort of social motivation to share the video, almost identical to John Lewis (67%).
The reasons why people would share both the John Lewis and M&S ads were also very similar, with opinion seeking and Christmas spirit (zeitgeist) both key motivations. However, with so much buzz around the John Lewis ad this year, it was perhaps not surprising that viewers were more likely to share it to get some kudos from their mates online. However, M&S’ ad was more likely to drive recommendations for the brand.
Brand recall for M&S’s ad was 73%, close to the UK Retail norm. This is impressive considering the M&S logo was only shown briefly at the end.
It suggests that the storyline was engaging to enough to keep viewers paying close attention right until the end, and that the emotional tone and theme of the content fit complemented the M&S brand. Interestingly, John Lewis, who used the same type of brand reveal at the end of their ad, had exactly the same score for brand recall.
High quality was the top attribute that viewers associated with M&S after watching the ad. They also said that M&S had the credibility to bring them this story, and that the brand was genuine, meaning they thought M&S really believed in the values shown.
Strong scores on both these counts resulted in M&S coming across as highly authentic in its Christmas campaign.
This impressive brand perception, along with good product placement in emotive key scenes, also drove good purchase intent, which was similar to the UK Retail norm of 32%. Intent to find out more was higher than usual, at 37%.
A combination of positivity towards the brand, solid recall and intent to share or talk about the ad resulted in a good number of potential brand champions for M&S (40%). John Lewis also created a larger number of brand champions (46%) due to higher intent to share or talk about the ad, but other business metrics were similar.
In fact, M&S were more likely to move the needle on brand favorability, with 37% of viewers improving their opinion of the brand, as opposed to 34% for John Lewis.