How M&S’s heart-shaped ‘love sausage’ won Valentine’s Day marketing

Guy Hanson, VP professional services at Return Path, discusses the impact the M&S Valentine’s Day Love Sausage had on its email marketing programme.

M&S love sausage

Valentine’s Day has come and gone for another year. Not surprisingly, this is the time of year when email promotions for chocolates, flowers, perfume and romantic weekends away go off the charts.

But, if we’re honest, it’s the unexpected stories that we really love. Like a few years ago when Timeout re-imagined London’s famous Big Ben landmark as a sex toy, or when Pizza Hut offered customers a chance to “Tie the knot with a $10 dinner box!”

(In fairness, the full package also included flowers, a fireworks show, a stretch limo, a photographer, and a ruby engagement ring plus a pizza, and cost $10,010).

This year was no exception:

McDonalds came up with a great interactive email, this one riffing on a vaguely Tinder-related theme: “Still not sure which Big Mac is the one for you? For a limited time only there are 6 to choose from. Click on the tick or the cross to find your perfect match!

The Conservative party had a political Valentine’s email message for their members “Are you sending someone a Valentine’s card tomorrow? Well spare a thought for Labour. Reports are suggesting that thousands of their members are falling out of love with them!

And for those who weren’t feeling the Valentine’s Day love, El Paso Zoo had the perfect answer with “Name a cockroach after your ex!

But the unexpected winner of Valentine’s Day 2019 was definitely Marks & Spencer, which set pulses racing with its Valentine’s Day heart-shaped love sausage promotion.

Love sausage Twitter

The promotion launched on 7th February, and within hours the Twitter-sphere was on fire, with a blaze of publicity for M&S, not all positive (#dontsayitwithsausages!). Some of the comments were laugh-out-loud funny, including “I genuinely thought I was getting promoted tweets from @AnnSummers when I saw this” and “Hi, I just asked a colleague at work if they wanted a bite of this product and everything has escalated so quickly I have an HR disciplinary at 2 !!!”

The press weren’t far behind:

M&S love sausage in the news

Remarkably, the joke quickly spread beyond the UK’s borders, with coverage also seen in France, Germany and Austria.

Interestingly, this promotion falls well outside of M&S’s comfort zone – typical customers are middle-aged plus, middle-class plus, and typically engage in hobbies like knitting, collecting, and flower arranging. A promotion like this is definitely a little off piste – as one commentator observed, “Someone in M&S marketing must be very pleased with themselves for managing to sneak this past their boss!”

Is this a classic case of “no such thing as bad publicity?” In the DMA’s Consumer Email tracker report, one in six respondents would mark emails as spam if the sender’s brand was experiencing negative publicity. In the past we’ve run plenty of analysis to show how subscriber engagement can become more negative when brands are getting bad press.

But occasionally the reverse also holds true. In the week approaching Valentine’s Day, M&S read rates were up by 1/10 (measured against their three-month benchmark) while complaint rates for the week were effectively 0%.

In short, the promotion was an outrageous success, with every single one of the 15,000 of the Valentine’s packs flying of the shelves. Clearly, M&S’s Love Sausage has given a big lift to their program performance…and maybe there was even some engagement too.

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