M&S drops Christmas TV ad for troubled clothing business

The focus this festive season will be on food.

'Go jumpers': last year's Christmas ad for M&S clothing
'Go jumpers': last year's Christmas ad for M&S clothing

Marks & Spencer has axed its Christmas TV ad for its clothing division this year.

Campaign understands that M&S has planned some online and influencer activity to promote its clothing and homewares, but the brand’s primary marketing focus for the festive season will be on food. The retailer will also attempt to drive more customers online as shopping habits shift during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A Christmas TV ad for food, created by Grey London, is due to launch in the coming weeks. 

The halt in TV activity signals a shift in M&S’s marketing strategy to boost its long-troubled clothing and home business, which has been further damaged this year by the impact of Covid-19. 

M&S has run two different Christmas campaigns – one for food and one for clothing and home – since 2018, when the retailer split into two operationally separate businesses to stem a long-term sales decline in clothing and home.

In 2019, M&S also divided its advertising between two accounts, appointing fashion specialist agency Odd to handle clothing and home. Grey, which won the brand’s entire creative account in 2016, held onto the food business. 

Last year’s Christmas ad for clothing, created by Odd, featured a large cast dancing to hip-hop classic Jump Around, while wearing knitted jumpers. A second festive spot used the same concept but with pyjamas.   

The ads shifted the brand’s tone creatively but the clothing division continued to struggle. In the last three months of 2019, M&S reported a 0.2% increase in like-for-like sales across its UK business to £2.7bn, but this was driven by food trade. Sales within clothing and home fell within the same period, down 1.7% to £1.1bn. 

However, M&S told Campaign in January that the “Go jumpers” Christmas ad had increased the sale of jumpers across womenswear and menswear by 6% and 7% respectively. "Go pyjamas" also increased sales of children's pyjamas by 10%.

Odd continues to retain the M&S clothing account. However, it is understood that the clothing division has paused much of its activity this year since the start of the pandemic. 

Like many other clothing retailers, M&S’s business has been hard hit by Covid-19. In August, it said it would cut 7,000 jobs over the following three months and that in-store sales of clothing and home goods were "well below" 2019 – but that online and home deliveries were strong. 

But even before this year’s crisis, M&S’s clothing sales had fallen for the past eight years. 

An M&S spokesperson said: “We wouldn’t share any details about our future campaigns before launch. This festive season our clothing team is focused on helping our customers shop with confidence in-store and online, as well as delivering the magic and sparkle customers expect of M&S – as ever, we’ll be doing that through a wide range of customer channels.”