Debenhams achieves record Christmas sales

  • Debenhams needed a way to create standout in a cluttered pre-Christmas marketplace
  • A completely unbranded TV ‘teaser’ campaign drove search and social engagement prior to a ‘reveal’ creative
  • Record sales weeks achieved  & Christmas sales increased 4.9% like-for-like

The Challenge

2014 was a tough year for Debenhams and culminated in the challenge of a Christmas high street that had become increasingly competitive due to new brands entering the market. The previous Christmas campaign had focussed largely on Debenhams’ fashion offering, but this approach was considered too narrow and saw their share of the gifting market suffer as a result.

The brand’s marketing objective for the 2014 campaign was to be better at engaging existing and lapsed consumers by capitalising on their love of buying Christmas gifts for others. To do this, it was vital to showcase the breadth of the Debenhams’ product range and make the brand a Christmas shopping destination.

TV needed to be a leading touchpoint of the campaign and the activity had to achieve standout during a period that was cluttered with high profile competitor campaigns.

The TV Solution

Audience analysis conducted by Carat demonstrated that the Debenhams consumer loved choosing the retailer for fashion items, but didn’t consider the brand for Christmas shopping (although she loved buying gifts for loved ones). Following this analysis, JWT conducted qualitative research to understand the pleasure the Debenhams consumer gained from buying gifts for other people – the effort was always worth it for the reward of seeing the people they love made happy. Additionally, TGI analysis proved the Debenhams consumer was a heavy multi-screener and 4.7m of them regularly used search to find a brand they’d seen on TV.

Armed with these insights, Debenhams, JWT and Carat arrived at a compelling campaign idea - #Foundit. This campaign relied on two distinct phases: an unbranded ‘teaser’ TV campaign designed to create intrigue and drive consumers online to discover more through search and social engagement; followed by a ‘reveal’ phase which would showcase Debenhams’ product range and play to the emotion felt in finding someone the perfect Christmas gift.

TV’s role within this campaign was central by bringing the Found It story to life with emotion, delivering high reach and exploiting key affinity programming to maximise engagement with the audience. 

The Plan

Research showed that the Debenhams consumer was planning Christmas shopping as early as the first week in November. Debenhams were also aware of two competitors launching their Christmas TV campaigns on 8th & 9th November, so it was important to get the brand front of mind before this prior to a cluttered launch weekend. The TV strategy needed to balance an early campaign launch date with the bulk of TVRs happening in the most active shopping weeks to ensure high sales.

The first phase of the campaign was designed to create intrigue with a 5” teaser ad which ran from 2nd to 8th November. The creative was unbranded, simply carrying a sign off #Foundit. An aggressive paid search campaign was waiting to direct the viewer to ‘find’ and be rewarded with the full length TV ad. The teaser launched on 2nd November in two of the biggest programmes of the season, The X Factor and Downton Abbey, to maximise coverage amongst the female 25-54 target audience. Carat identified the optimal TV weight for this phase as 60% 1+ which ensured a strong foundation for the second stage. 

The second ‘reveal’ phase of the campaign saw the full length TV ad broadcast during The X Factor on Saturday 8th November. Two 5” teasers appeared before the 60” creative to disclose Debenhams as the brand behind Foundit.

The TV plan was phased to ensure high share of voice against the competitive set; 56% for the early teaser period and 33% for the second phase campaign period. The campaign was flighted to achieve 70% reach over the full campaign period with an effective frequency level of 3 for the Debenhams shopper.


  • The tease stage of the campaign achieved maximum exposure reaching 70% of the target audience (versus initial target of 60%)
  • #Foundit achieved top ten trend following launch night
  • Record sales weeks achieved - Christmas sales increased 4.9% year on year and online sales up 28.9%
  • 40% increase versus previous year for the men’s gifts, gadgets & games category; +25% for gift food sales; +15% for toys
  • Key communications objectives achieved with TV ad recognisers more likely to associate Debenhams with several positive core brand image attributes than non-recognisers: customer affinity (+9%pt); multichannel offering (+7%pt) and Christmas association (+7%pt)

I am pleased with our performance in the critical Christmas trading weeks, driven by our strength in a diverse range of product categories and a strong marketing campaign focused on gifting

Michael Sharpe Chief Executive, Debenhams


Sector: Retail

Brand: Debenhams

Campaign objectives: Make Debenhams a Christmas shopping destination by showcasing product range and standing out in a cluttered pre-Christmas marketplace

Target Audience: Women 25-54

Budget: approx. £3.3m total spend

Campaign Dates: The campaign ran from 2nd November until 13th December 2014

TV Usage: 5 second, 10 second, 20 second and 60 second spots

Creative Agency: JWT

Media Agency:  Carat

You might also like

Shackleton Whisky: chasing the big adventure

How Shackleton achieved ambitious targets and a new positioning with a well aligned partnership


TSB elevates Pride of Britain partnership to restore trust in brand

This case study tells the story of how TSB regained consumer confidence through clever use of TV content and emotive storytelling


Rammed with confidence: how Volkswagen T-ROC stood out from the crowd

Watch how PHD and adam&eveDDB worked to deliver Volkswagen the UK’s most successful Small SUV launch for 7 years.