Brand buzz: M&S says it with sausage

Valentine’s Day is a divisive Hallmark holiday, with many people rolling their eyes in derision at its existence – flowers and chocolates are so predictable, so passé. Then M&S launched its Valentine’s Day Love Sausage on Twitter, asking their customers in the announcement to “say it with sausage”.

The Love Sausage was Marks & Spencer’s innuendo-laden V-Day breakfast treat for 2019. The upmarket retailer was selling almost half a kilo of heart-shaped Cumberland sausage, wrapped in bacon, for a mere £5. In the middle of the two curled sausages, diners were told to bake two eggs. Hey presto; an instant romantic breakfast for two on 14th February. There was even the addition of truffle oil to give the offering that classic M&S premium feel.

The product is certainly a deviation from Marks & Spencer’s traditional tone. There was no “this is not just a sausage, this is an M&S sausage” slogans to be heard. But the unexpectedness of the Love Sausage from a player of M&S’s reputation is what made the campaign so effective. The brazenness of the marketing was clear; an obvious, cheeky tone, unusual for M&S.

Other brands tried to emulate M&S, with similar tongue-in-cheek offerings to cut through the cynicism surrounding the day. KFC created a “Poulet Bouquet”, while Lush released emoji-inspired aubergine and peach bath bombs.

Of course, the internet instantly reacted to the supermarket’s new product with a great deal of disbelief, with many pointing out the evident sexual connotations of the M&S Love Sausage. In true British fashion, the replies were mostly raised-eyebrow memes and innuendos.

The product itself received mixed reviews. Some consumers were eager to purchase the Love Sausage, others were repulsed. But controversy sells. Marks & Spencer predicted it would sell the Love Sausage to more than 15,000 customers come 14th February. In fact, it looks as if the retailer surpassed its own estimate, with many shoppers disappointed to find the shelves already empty on the first day of sale.

More importantly than sales figures, however, was how M&S captured the public conversation. The Love Sausage was covered by virtually every media outlet and stimulated a social media storm. The genius stroke was announcing the product’s release on Twitter, ensuring it instantly went viral. #lovesausage continued to trend on Twitter and fans made their own versions of the product when they couldn’t get their hands on the infamous banger in stores. Marks & Spencer was the clear winner this Valentine’s Day. Morrisons’ heart-shaped steak barely got a look in.

Marks & Spencer also released a vegan alternative in the run up to Valentine’s Day, the Heart-Beet burger, made with roasted beetroot. Perhaps less cheeky than the meaty alternative, it again demonstrated the supermarket’s continuing commitment to tasty vegan options following the launch of its vegan range, Plant Kitchen, in late 2018.

Despite M&S suffering from a decline in sales, it is innovation and that accessible, yet premium touch that maintains the reputation of M&S food. The Love Sausage may not be what we are used to from the retailer, but it gave them the edge as the supermarkets battled for supremacy this Valentine’s Day. The comedy wurst kept M&S front of mind for romantic grub, backing up a customer favourite – the decadent Valentine’s meal for two for £20.

Is this tongue-in-cheek strategy going to continue? It looks likely, as the retailer released the ‘Yoga Bunny’ for Easter – a chocolate bunny doing a downward dog. Hop to it.