Marks and Suspensers

The battle of the Christmas adverts is already hotting up – as Marks & Spencer films its festive offering in the middle of summer.

The high street giant sprayed streets with fake snow to transform a London square into a winter wonderland. Our exclusive pictures show how they even brought in a helicopter packed with gifts to put the heat on rival stores. With just 140 sleeps to go, the chain does not want to be caught napping after it was left on the shelf last year by John Lewis and Sainsbury’s.

But bosses insist they are keeping the full plot of December’s advert tightly – and seasonally – wrapped. And while the location in Islington, North London, is close to the home of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, insiders reckon it is unlikely the ad will play on the theme of a Merry BreXmas.

Two Georgian terraced houses were decked out in tinsel, complete with Christmas tree in the window – while families were surprised to pull back their curtains and find snow on the ground. An insider said: “M&S are desperate to beat John Lewis and Sainsbury’s this time round – that’s why they’ve spent a fortune on helicopters and the most picturesque square in London.”

The firm is said to have donated thousands of pounds to the Islington Association, while residents were paid up to £3,000 a day for the use of their homes. The street was locked down for the two weeks of filming, as child actors sweltered in heavy jackets and bobble hats.

Central to the advert’s hush-hush storyline is an Australian sheep dog – as animals have proved a hit in previous years. Last year’s Sainsbury’s tale of Mog the Forgetful Cat won the big-money battle for ratings, while in 2014 it was John Lewis’ penguins that melted viewers’ hearts. This year’s M&S offering is said to have gone “in a completely different direction” to last year – when the store released seven stylised shorts that built on its earlier “Art Of ” themed adverts.

The Christmas campaign has become a major draw for retailers. Last year John Lewis spent £7million on its bid to win over shoppers. Its short film, Man on the Moon, got nearly 23million online views – but was still eclipsed by Sainsbury’s Mog the Cat, which racked up 26million. The revamped childhood favourite proved a savvy choice by the supermarket chain, with the much-loved Emma Thompson narrating the story.

Robert Jones, professor of brand leadership at the University of East Anglia, said: “Christmas ads have become a cultural event in their own right.” Currys PC World hired Hollywood A-lister Jeff Goldblum to give tips on “faking delight” for its £10million 2015 campaign, while fashion firm Burberry featured Romeo Beckham and James Corden in a Billy Elliot tribute.