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Ambush Marketing: Steals the  Show


  Pushing product: Is in-store promotion effective?   Pushing product: Is in-store promotion effective?  John Karolefski  
Pushing product: Is in-store promotion effective? Proponents say in-store marketing creates a lively atmosphere and enriches the shopping experience. “The store is more than a distribution point. It is a marketing medium that allows for various touch points of communication or messaging,” says Mel Korn, president and CEO of New York-based Collaborative Marketing Worldwide.

Critics say the store is really assembling a cacophony of messages that draw attention from the brands on the shelf. “The truth is that you can paint the sides of cows with ads if you want, but that doesn’t mean you have an effective medium. It means you have a glut of worthless ad space,” counters Rob Frankel, a branding consultant and author of “The Revenge of Brand X.”

While the debate rages, in-store marketing in supermarkets has been growing with an array of creative and sophisticated vehicles delivering brand messages to shoppers as they push their carts through the aisles. Brands are advertised on signs fastened to shelves, attached to displays, and stuck on the floor with decals. There are audio systems and TV monitors broadcasting a blend of brand messages and programming about shopping. In-store coupons and live samplings of new branded food products add to the mix.

In-store marketing tools have been used in US supermarkets for years to advertise and promote brands of consumer packaged goods made by such world-class firms as Coca-Cola, Kraft, and Unilever, as well as from smaller companies. What began with signs on shopping carts two decades ago has grown to such imposing and sophisticated tools as oversized TV screens suspended from the ceiling. The larger the store, the more opportunity for conveying brand messages.

These efforts at building brands in the store are hardly confined to the US. Supermarkets around the world are either testing in-store marketing programs or expanding existing ones. For example, FLOORgraphics, a provider of floor decals, now has installations in 7,000 stores operating in 15 countries. Included are such far-flung markets as Ecuador, Trinidad, Poland and South Africa. Among the global advertisers: Colgate-Palmolive, Kimberly-Clark, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble.

“In-store brand promotion is on the increase in England,” reports Nitin Sanghavi, professor of retail marketing and strategy at the Manchester Business School. “Stores and their suppliers are using a variety of marketing vehicles to promote brands, including shelf-edge talkers, gondola end-cards, in-store coupons, messages on the floor, and TV monitors.” Most of the major supermarket operators in the UK, such as Tesco, Wal-Mart Asda, and Sainsbury’s, have active programs, he adds.

“In-store branding has become quite popular in the Brazilian retail market,” says André Galiano, a consultant with Interbrand Brazil. “Brands are advertised on signs fastened to the shelf, attached to displays, and so on. Marketing departments at several consumer goods companies have seen that opportunity and invested in actions to promote their brands at the point of purchase, enriching the shopping experience.”

For example, Sonho de Valsa is a brand of popular chocolate that has caught the attention of busy shoppers via floor decals, according to Galiano. He singles out Pão de Açúcar Supermarket as a grocery chain that has embraced the notion of in-store branding and succeeded as a result. “It now enjoys a price premium on all its products. Where does the secret lie? In the customer experience, in the environmental branding,” he says.

Galiano uses the example of a maker of frozen pizza communicating brand messages in the supermarket. Italian music could be broadcast on audio systems, while floor decals direct shoppers to the aisle where there’s a big cardboard figure of an Italian cook holding the package.

“Examples are extensive,” he says, “but what remains important is that consumers live through the experience. It helps them decide what product to pick from the ever-growing smorgasbord of choices. What it all gets down to is one thing: differentiation.”

Sixty percent of all in-store purchases are unplanned, according to James Maskulka, associate professor of marketing at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “These impulse purchases are likely motivated by a variety of in-store marketing communications: coupons, sampling, end-of-aisle displays, etc. In-store advertising also complements today’s hectic consumer lifestyle. Consumers simply don’t have time to ‘study’ ad messages. They want relevant brand information when and where it is convenient for them.”

Mark Kamen, executive vice president of Saatchi & Saatchi Collaborative Marketing in New York, believes that all of these in-store communication vehicles are “a fabulous idea. The more, the better. The more flat-screen TVs, floor decals, shelf talkers and other ways to talk to shoppers, the better.”

Kamen’s colleague Korn adds that manufacturers and retailers need to work together to orchestrate the random assortment of ad vehicles and create a “symphony” in the store. Manufacturers have the marketing expertise needed to coordinate, say, floor decals and display signage with electronic panels and at-shelf coupons. “Apply this symphony to an important category and watch what happens!” he says.

Not everybody is enthusiastic.

“Retailers have to think of what messages they want within their four walls,” says Clair D’Amour, vice president of corporate affairs for Big Y Supermarkets, a chain based in Springfield, Massachusetts. “There already is a barrage of messages. Do you want to add more – whether it’s something on the shopping cart, something on the floor, or something on the ceiling?”

At the Manchester Business School, Professor Sanghavi says there is evidence to suggest that food buying is still semi-impulse driven, and there are still opportunities to influence consumers on the final choice of brands at the point of sale. There are surveys indicating that in-store promotions have been useful in persuading consumers to buy targeted brands. However, he cautions, “There are limitations in terms of scope and manners, especially when a store begins to appear much more like a street market, and when these tools are not managed properly.”

Frankel, the consultant, sums up the thinking of those who reject the notion that in-store marketing builds brands: “The only contribution these new media produce is ad clutter, which actually serves to reduce ad effectiveness. The average person is subjected to at least 3,000 ad messages a day, which means the clutter is blurring ad messages into electronic wallpaper that nobody notices.

“Think of the last time you went to the market for a dozen bagels. Were you swayed by any commercial message? Probably not. Most shoppers are on a mission, with lists in hand, to get what they need and get home. They’re not cruising the aisles and stopping to review dopey commercials,” he says.

Marketing medium or dopey commercials? The debate goes on.    



John Karolefski, formerly the editor-in-chief of Brand Marketing magazine, writes and speaks frequently about marketing issues.

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