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M&S tv ad burns festive traditions

Christmas commercial of torching cards angers cardies – and the public


The battle of the Christmas tv adverts has a very definite loser for the greeting card industry as retailers, publishers and the general public piled in to decry M&S for its card-burning scenes after releasing the footage on Tuesday, 1 November.

And, while the multiple retailer with the cosy reputation has apologised and withdrawn its images of traditional festive red, green and silver paper crowns going up in flames after some objections that they could be perceived as the red, green and white colours of the Palestinian flag, there has been nothing to lessen the impact for the greeting card industry.

Above & top: Sophie Ellis-Bextor gets handy with the blowtorch in the M&S advert
Above & top: Sophie Ellis-Bextor gets handy with the blowtorch in the M&S advert

“Noooo, not the Christmas cards!” was Royal Mail’s immediate reaction to the the ad with the campaign line Love Thismas (Not Thatmas) which stars Sophie Ellis-Bextor – in a £49.50 M&S Collection this-season dress, as the post explains – turning her kitchen blowtorch from toasting the meringues on a gingerbread house to set fire to the unwritten Christmas cards on the worktop.

Following Tuesday’s first tv airing of the ad from creative agency Mother, GCA ceo Amanda Fergusson immediately reacted with a quote for the consumer media: “Many of our members have been in touch to say they’re somewhat surprised by the blow-torching of Christmas cards in the M&S Christmas ad. They know how important the £1.5billion creative card sector is to the UK – and that Christmas cards are wonderful little things that support relationships, mental health and wellbeing, communities and charities.

“Perhaps it feels as traditional as a pair of M&S knickers but, thankfully, most of us will think about putting others first this Christmas, not themselves.”

Above: The Instagram post that riled the card industry and public
Above: M&S’s Instagram post about the ad that’s riled the card industry and public

Featuring the scenes in an Instagram reel, the caption “Do what you love this festive season, even if it means choosing Christmas calls over cards. (But also, our Christmas cards are very nice 😉) cut no ice with the greetings community as the first four comments were on the M&S Insta feed were from Xmas Cardies WhatsApp Group members who got together to remind people of the joys of sending festive missives following the issues caused last year by the postal strikes.

No14 Ampthill owner Jo Barber was the very first to comment on the post, saying: “I truly don’t understand why you think this is good? The sending of cards at Christmas brings joy to so many, especially those who are lonely or struggle at this time of year. I dread to think how the charities your cards are meant to support feel watching this today.”

M&S did respond to Jo and a few others with the reply: “The ad is all about the traditions you love while recognising that this will be different for everyone – that’s what makes Christmas, Christmas!”

And, in response to a comment that “I hardly think the greetings card sector will fold because Markies have said it’s ok not to send them,” Jo added: “I don’t recall saying they would. I feel for the charities they claim to support by sending said cards, and suggesting setting fire to them. Breast Cancer and Shelter must be feeling incredibly disappointed. I love the message, but for me, the execution’s wrong.”

Immediately following Jo on the M&S post was Earlybird’s Heidi Early, who co-owns both the shop in Stoke Newington and the publisher, who added: “Why would you call someone instead of taking the time to write a card which means so much more, creates a Christmassy feel on display and is a timeless keepsake? Let’s stop prioritising other things over this simple but thoughtful gesture. #connectwithcards it makes people so happy #cardmitment.”

Up in Chapel Allerton, Chirpy owner Jo McBeath wrote: “Can’t understand what possessed M&S to do this – the joy that receiving a card brings! And what about people who design, make and sell cards! And the charities who rely on cards sales. M&S you have got it so wrong this year!”

Above: Sean Austin is sending his feelings in a card from his Austin & Co store in Malvern to Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Above: Sean Austin posted on LinkedIn about how he’s sending his feelings in a card from his Austin & Co store in Malvern to Sophie Ellis-Bextor

And Sarah Laker, of Stationery Supplies in Marple and Wilmslow, commented: “Oh my goodness! What a terrible message in so many ways. Christmas cards are such a traditional part of Christmas that bring joy to so many. You can’t put a call on the mantlepiece, or keep it to remember a lost loved one and their handwriting.”

At Red Card in Petworth owner Sally Matson has made an official complaint to M&S as well as posting:“Pretty horrified actually. As a brand that is respected by so many, this advertisement is wrong on so many levels. The current culture of doing what you want post-Covid has resulted in people behaving so unkindly towards each other and the whole idea of doing what you want is not really an appropriate or timely message.

“On top of that, I am a greeting card retailer and to show someone torching a pile of greeting cards, whn you take into considerationnthe joy a greeting card brings, the charitable donationsthey raise and the connection between people they encourage, you really have got this message wrong. Shame.

“And you sell such nice cards –  your stationery department must be so disappointed, not to mention the charities you claim to support.”

And public comments on media stories about the 80-second ad – which can be watched in full below – include “Kids won’t like it….The message is don’t buy Christmas cards from M&S….just dress up in a sequin frock and get slossed it seems…rubbish ad,” ”Seems like a pretty crap christmas ad actually, not exactly urges you to go out and buy from M & S!” and “Bah humbug…burn and destroy Christmas…don’t spend any money in M&S on cards or decorations…bah humbug!! Ban Christmas…!!!”

Michael Apter
, who runs the three Paper Tiger shops in Edinburgh, pointed out how impressed he’s been recently with the turnaround in M&S’s fortunes, adding: “I have said to several people that M&S are on fire right now. I didn’t mean it literally, but their new Christmas advert is a bit of a head scratcher. It seems very odd that they have chosen to torch one of their own Christmas product categories.

“From an industry perspective, it’s disappointing to see M&S casually burning a market sector worth £1.5bn to the UK economy. I’m a big fan of The KLF but, as a retailer, burning money seems like a backwards step.

“I would love to be a fly on the wall when the M&S greeting card buyer asks why they have done this, and I would be amazed if their own card suppliers and printers are going to be very happy about this.”

Crowing on its website Marks & Spencer reckons it’s “celebrating the honest truth of Christmas” and inspired “by the insight that, for many, it can be a challenge striking the balance between celebrating the things we love about the holidays, and taking on some things we might not enjoy as much but feel obliged to do anyway”.

Above: Singer and podcaster Sophie smiles as the Christmas cards go up in flames
Above: Singer and podcaster Sophie smiles as the Christmas cards go up in flames

With the scenes set to Ray BLK’s specially-recorded cover of Meat Loaf’s I’ll Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), the usually much-loved retailer added: “To bring this to life, this campaign invites viewers to embrace only the things they love about Christmas (and skip those they don’t). The campaign line Love Thismas (Not Thatmas) encourages people to join in, deciding what makes Christmas work best for them.”

The tv ad is set across four different homes, each featuring a British household name – actress Hannah Waddingham, singer and podcast host Sophie Ellis-Bextor, presenter and style expert Tan France, and actress Zawe Ashton – all suddenly deciding which Christmas traditions they’ll embrace this year and which they’re going to skip. All are dressed in M&S clothes with details available in their social media posts so, obviously, the tradition of buying its new fancy festive partywear isn’t one the retailer wants the public to ditch.

Sophie torches her cards, Zawe whacks Elf On The Shelf into touch with a roll of wrapping paper, Tan doesn’t try with the homemade decorations and boots out board games, while Hannah is seen shredding foil crowns – but the outtake scene of burning paper ones in a fireplace has been removed.

Tan has posted on social media pointing out the scenes were shot in August, over six weeks before the current Israel-Palestine conflict erupted, and the crown colours of red, green and silver are also similar to those on over 20 other country flags including Mexico, Oman, Hungary, Italy, Algeria, Lebanon, Wales, and Bulgaria.

Above: The outtake image of burning paper crowns that’s been removed, and the M&S apology
Above: The outtake image of burning paper crowns that’s been removed, and the M&S apology

Having originally posted the image on Tuesday with the caption: “This Christmas, do only what you love…like saying no to paper hats (although, if we’re honest, we’re partial),” M&S quickly cut the post following comments and released a statement confirming the August recording and adding: “While the intent was to playfully show that some people just don’t enjoy wearing paper Christmas hats over the festive season, we have removed the post following feedback and we apologise for any unintentional hurt caused.”

However, despite the greetings industry being worth £1.5billion to the UK economy, employing hundreds of thousands of people in the supply chain and at retail, and supporting innumerable good causes with charity card sales raising millions – including M&S’s own stock for Shelter, Breast Cancer Now, and Marie Keating Foundation – nothing official has been forthcoming from the retail giant to mitigate the damage the ad, that’s still airing numerous times a day, could cause if the public follow Sophie’s lead.

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