It’s no surprise that marketers face enormous hurdles today in getting their message in front of the right consumers. At the height of the mass marketing era in the 1950s, advertisers could buy commercial time during I Love Lucy or The Ed Sullivan Show and be confident of reaching a huge percentage of their target audience. But no single TV show, newspaper, or Web site offers such widespread access to consumers today. The last bastion of prime-time mass marketing may well be the retail shopping environment, an advertising vehicle that many people would not even consider a communication medium.
“Everybody has to shop, so the store is the last place where mass marketing exists,” says George Wishart, global managing director of Nielsen In-Store, the retail media division of the Nielsen Company. “Even better, you are reaching people who are declared shoppers. They’re there for a purpose.”
During the last few years, marketers, retailers, and media companies have intensified efforts to increase the impact of in-store advertising and make it a bigger part of the marketing mix. They are moving beyond traditional vehicles such as cardboard displays, printed ads, coupons at checkout, and video screens that run the same ad throughout the store. Video ads in stores are more targeted than they have ever been. They are powered by networks that offer programming aimed at particular shoppers, on the basis of where they are standing in the store, the promotions on nearby displays, and the time of day. Consumers in some stores can find shopping carts that help them navigate the aisles; if they pick up a bag of charcoal, the cart suggests barbecue recipes and guides them to the ingredients — mentioning, perhaps, which brands are on sale. If consumers swipe the charcoal with a handheld scanner, the scanner generates a coupon for it and for complementary barbecue items such as chips or soda.
The next generation of in-store advertising, in the not-too-distant future, will allow shoppers to request information via their mobile phones or kiosks that provide product advice, help consumers make choices, and make it easier for people to find what they’re looking for.
Most of these in-store marketing experiences exist only in prototypes and experiments, in a very few retail locations. For them to become ubiquitous, the media and marketing ecosystem — including marketers, agencies, media companies, and technology companies — must address several important challenges. First, the medium itself is still in development. Marketers and retailers need to experiment and collaborate to find the right mix of creative content (writing and video production) and technology to reach consumers in a meaningful way. Second, the metrics that measure in-store advertising effectiveness need to reach the same level of sophistication and standardization that exist with other, more established media. Finally, marketers have to learn how to integrate their in-store advertising programs with other in-store promotions and display activities, as well as with national media campaigns.
As the various players in the ecosystem address these issues, in-store advertising will transform the retail environment. It will also transform the advertising industry, reconfiguring marketers’ advertising budgets, their overall approach, and some of their strategic assumptions about reaching consumers.
The State of the Store
A few numbers make it easier to see the growth potential of in-store media. Advertising spending in traditional media such as TV, newspapers, magazines, and radio grew by less than 2 percent annually during 2006 and 2007. But spending for online advertising grew by more than 20 percent annually. Already, the Web takes in more advertising dollars than cable TV or radio. This shift reflects marketers’ desire for greater targeting, interaction with consumers, and measurability — all qualities offered by in-store media.