Christmas in three words? Let's see. Sentimental and nostalgic?
Or awkward and embarrassing? 25 December can turn out either way - and
so can Marks & Spencer's yuletide ad from Rainey Kelly Campbell
It all depends on your mood when you see it. The line between
heartwarming and stomach-churning is a fine one and this ad straddles it
like Santa Claus on a moped.
In its proper context - stuffed into a break towards the end of It's a
Wonderful Life when most of the audience are brimful with sherry - this
ad might raise the odd smile. In the cold light of a November TV
schedule, with the festive mood still to kick in, it just feels
That's always a risk when you deal in the fuzzier emotions -which is
exactly what this spot does. Throughout the film, there's no attempt to
delineate a single actual reason why M&S should be your destination
store this Christmas. OK, there are some product shots subtly woven in
but they're never allowed to impinge upon a script that is pure,
M&S is attempting to wrap up all the nostalgia that gets slung around at
this time of year and brand the entire bundle, with no reason given
beyond the dodgy "three words" motif.
There's a contrast between this and, say, the Woolworths work, which
attempts to sell Christmas cheer while saying at least something about
the range the store offers. M&S is asking us to believe in a Santa's
grotto of a department store that can solve our every yuletide need at
In these cynical days, we might need a little more evidence that this is
As recently as the summer, M&S was attempting to give us concrete
product-based reasons why it was still the right choice for the UK's
middle-class women. Rainey Kelly's TV work - the first ever put together
for the store - attempted to tie its future appeal to the
forward-looking Autograph fashion range. However, the spectacular
failure of the "normal" size 16 woman running naked up a hill instead
left a question mark over the position of the marketing supremo Alan
McWalter, not to mention Rainey Kelly's hold on the account.
That both appear slightly more secure now is due to an upturn in the
company's fortunes that last month brought M&S a 20 per cent rise in
half-year profits. At this point, a strong Christmas could put the store
on the road to recovery, while a weak one would damn it all over again.
It's tempting to see the choice of George Best as one of the store's
celebrity spokesmen as a nod towards this situation. Both have had rough
years, both are looking a little bit better and both have a lot of
goodwill behind them - if only they can avoid doing something
M&S needs a big TV campaign to push Christmas sales but can't afford any
more risks. The response is a pitch for the hearts of the middle-England
constituency on which the store built its past successes, but which is
now threatening to go the way of the Daily Express readership. Within
these parameters, and at this time of year, it might just bypass their
cynicism and work. But that's all it can do.
M&S shouldn't kid itself that this nostalgic strategy is anything more
than a seasonal stopgap. Christmas comes just once a year and that
leaves a good ten months when people go shopping rationally. At best,
Zoe Ball and company will leave M&S where it was before the disastrous
size 16 experiment. After the New Year hangovers have worn off, it needs
to come up with something far more business-like.
Dead cert for a Pencil? The Rainey Kelly stocking will have to be filled
File this under? U for unambitious.
What would the chairman's wife say? What is it that we sell again, dear?