The Brand Radar: M&S, Cooking with the Stars and how retailers bring TV brands to life in-store

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at the recent partnership between M&S and ITV’s new Cooking with the Stars show – and how the collaboration has spanned in-store activity and tie-in product.

We are in the age of event television. Broadcasters are buying into programmes and formats that have the potential to come alive beyond the screen, particularly in areas like social media.

Shows like Love Island generate huge interest and engagement on social media, coupled with plenty of column inches in more traditional media. This is supersized water-cooler-moment TV. It represents an attractive programming route for broadcasters as shows of this kind can help deliver higher audiences, more advertising and wider commercial opportunities around the main programme.

Lots of formats, like Love Island, have second or third programmes associated with them which often review the main show and further engage audiences. This commitment to a range of programmes is an indication of how important these shows are to TV schedules. It’s easy to see why programmers and broadcasters are keen to pursue similar programmes.

Shows like Big Brother, Love Island and I’m a Celebrity… have all helped create a momentum in programming that doesn’t seem to be slowing up. Interestingly, these types of shows haven’t always generated significant retail engagement. We’ve seen licensed ranges and some retailer partnerships – like when Superdrug linked with Love Island – but there seems to be room for further commercial development. That said, building wider commercial activity around TV shows of this kind can be a challenge.

Against this backdrop, it has been interesting to see how retailer Marks & Spencer have capitalised on ITV’s Cooking with the Stars programme. The show is currently on air on Tuesdays at 9pm on ITV and is primetime viewing. It also has a companion show, Extra Helpings, that is available via M&S’ YouTube Channel.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

M&S have really seized upon the commercial opportunity that Cooking with the Stars presents. The show features eight top British chefs – including Jack Stein, Rosemary Shrager and Judy Joo – who are teamed up with celebrities who, you guessed it, cook with them.

The show has a challenge and jeopardy element as each week a celebrity is eliminated. There is also a focus on skills acquisition, as the celebrities learn new dishes and cooking techniques.

The dishes shown in the programme provide ideas and inspiration to viewers as well, and this is an element that M&S have capitalised on and are bringing alive in their shops.

M&S highlights key ingredients from the show throughout their stores by using branded Cooking with the Stars signage to flag the ingredients up. The show and the promotion are heavily promoted in store, in shop windows and with boards outside store; M&S have made it clear they are Cooking with the Stars.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

Linking to ingredients from the show is a smart move and a really good link to the on-air content. The show is a great call to action for consumers and M&S are making it convenient for consumers to follow up on that call.

A further dynamic of the partnership is that M&S are offering free recipes cards with recipes from the chefs, complete with step-by-step instructions. These are displayed in a branded dispenser at the front of store. For example, chef Rosemary Shrager has contributed a Goan Chicken Xacuti with Fragrant Basmati Rice and Capstis.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

A key feature seems to be that you can prep and cook the meals within an hour. Convenience is a key theme in this promotion. Convenience when it comes to shopping, selecting ingredients and cooking is a powerful combination and will resonate with consumers.

M&S has also given its Percy Pig brand a Cooking with the Stars makeover to celebrate the partnership. This comes in the form of a limited edition plush toy called Chef Percy, that comes with a hat, a Cooking With the Stars apron and an ear embroidered with ‘Limited Edition 2021 Gift’.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

Another driver for M&S is the fact that the series is inspiring consumers to try new dishes, but in a curated way. The chefs’ menus and recommendations deliver a degree of permission and confidence that consumers may well need to try something new.

A further benefit is that I imagine M&S are learning a lot from this in terms of uptake, trends and consumer choice. This will be useful in future range planning and NPD. It also helps position M&S as an interesting place to shop, offering something different from their competitors.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

M&S have also integrated the partnership into their in-store newspaper: What’s Fresh at M&S. The July issue featured the chefs on the front page and strongly called out the partnership with follow up pages that outlined the premise of the programme in more detail. This was also backed up with a QR code to allow consumers to access all the recipes created by the chefs.

M&S have used the partnership to deliver a real retail event and create a point of difference in the marketplace. For them, they are reliant on the show being a success and delivering an audience. Linking with a prime-time ITV show is low risk as there is a readymade audience, but in today’s more volatile TV market there are no guarantees, so it’s a bold move by M&S and one they clearly felt could deliver a big impact for them.

M&S may be thinking that this partnership is a way of keeping consumers engaged and motivated around home dining, building on the trend for more elaborate home dining that has emerged during lockdown. The challenge element of Cooking with the Stars is also no doubt appealing to M&S as this will naturally lead to social media sharing and engagement among consumers.

For ITV, landing a major retailer like M&S for a partnership of this kind is quite a coup. There are presumably commercial benefits from the partnership for ITV, but it also enhances the visibility of the series and contributes to the feeling that this is a significant programme – an event!

M&S’ promotion of the show is a great boost for ITV and helps shine a light on it, especially during a busy broadcasting period with the Olympics on air. It’s difficult to make assumptions on the commercial aspects of the deal, but for both parties it represents a partnership of significance and one that could be a template for future collaborations.

As a commercial broadcaster, it’s easier for ITV to deliver this kind of integrated event TV than the BBC or indeed maybe some lower profile channels, but it is still a challenging commercial undertaking.

It’s important not to forget that this is also a fantastic showcase for the chefs featured on the show. It will be interesting to see if involvement in the show leads to more TV opportunities for them or opens other commercial doors for them and their brands.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

Cooking with the Stars certainly seems to be a fresh direction for M&S but one that should be applauded in terms of their commitment to it, the in-store presentation of the partnership and the focus on sales promotion.

It’s a partnership with product at the centre of it and one that should influence consumer behaviour. It will be interesting to see how it is judged upon its conclusion, but also whether it inspires other retailers to develop this kind of in depth partnership with a TV show.

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