PepsiCo, Kraft Foods and Nestle Purina are among major brands participating in a pilot test of 3GTV Networks in nine Bloom grocery stores in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
The in-store media platform -- being touted as a breakthrough in the booming shopper marketing arena -- enables measurable digital communications to consumers throughout the store, extending the television model into the retail environment and making retail a plannable media destination, according to its creator, Allendale, N.J.-based Automated Media Services, Inc. (AMS).
The network actually consists of two platforms, enabled by a total-store infrastructure or "digital backbone" that combines cloud computing technology and electrical wiring, explain AMS chairman/CEO Bob Wolinsky and president/COO Greg Ralko. The two platforms are storewide "always-in-sight" LCD screens, and smaller "shelf-edge messaging" screens positioned in front of brands that want additional, more promotionally oriented vehicles for their products.
The "always in sight" screens are positioned at research-determined intervals within each aisle (overarching the aisle via attachment to the gondolas on either side) at heights in shoppers' line of sight. All of the continuously running marketing content shown on these is synched storewide and tied into the store's overall music/ announcements audio system.
Typical messaging is done in category "blocks." For example, a dairy block might show a segment promoting Bloom's organic dairy products/ area, followed by one showing Kraft cheese on a pizza, followed by a "Got Milk" or dairy-related nutrition/health segment, notes AMS VP, content Dan Seliger.
This storewide content is designed to drive awareness of, and traffic to, specific areas of the store and specific brands or brand areas. However, content is keyed to "relevance" and "value" for the shopper, and the experience is managed so as to be "discreet" and "non-intrusive," according to Seliger.
For example, storewide voiceovers to the audio/visuals are limited, and the store's music track is suppressed when a voiceover comes on. Brand messaging is not allowed to include brands' own music/jingles, and all content has to adhere to "rules," including technical/creative guidelines such as image size, he reports.
While audio, as well as visuals, are possible on the individual-brand shelf-edge messaging screens -- which are about four inches to seven inches in size -- pilot brand participants currently are not employing audio on these. The recommended best practice would be to activate audio on these only in response to interaction by a shopper, the executives note.
The shelf-edge, OLED-screen units are touchscreen enabled, letting marketers interact with consumers in a variety of ways (offering options to access more information on a particular product or variety without having to go online, for example). The communications are two-way, meaning that AMS is gathering data as consumers interact with the units.
Although these capabilities aren't yet being employed by pilot participants, the shelf-edge units can also enable interfacing with cell phones for social networking or driving consumers to a Web site, using on-screen QR codes to let consumers generate digital coupons, and other marketing/promotional applications. "We can plug in many different capabilities," says Ralko.
The number of shelf-edge screens within a given aisle will be determined by individual retailers. In the pilot stores, these screens are being limited by category, and generally don't exceed three per aisle, according to AMS.
Might consumers feel somewhat overwhelmed by multiple screens overhead and on shelves? AMS maintains that the overall experience is actually less cluttered and confusing for the consumer than traditional POP messaging methods, as well as more effective for the brands and retailers.
According to Wolinksy, extensive research during the networks' eight-plus years of development has confirmed consistently that the media system strongly resonates with the 18-to-34 demographic, while older consumers "don't object" to it.
Extending At-Home TV Metrics Into the Store
The "always-in-sight" system works on a rating-point model that enables purchase of in-store air time using the same metrics as at-home television. Once the infrastructure is in place within a store, devices on carts are used to measure shopper flow patterns precisely throughout the store during a sampling period, and those are mathematically translated into delivery metrics. The metrics remain valid as long as the same store layout remains in place.
This model also enables local television networks to use the "always-in-sight" in-store media to reach consumers. In the pilot, Washington, D.C., CW affiliate WDCW is trading airtime with the 3GTV network on an equivalent-audience delivery basis.
While WDCW is using the platform for "tune-in" messaging (driving awareness of specific programming) during the pilot, it also can be used to offer a station's advertisers the in-store exposure as part of their media buys. The station's or advertiser's messaging must be adapted to fit 3GTV's content/graphics rules.
Reaching shoppers at point-of-purchase is "the quintessential" goal for all marketers, and stores are the "ideal destination" for using television, says Wolinsky. However, employing the television model in-store has up to this point been impeded by inability to provide accountability on video playing and viewing and audience delivery metrics. "3GTV is the first leap of television into the in-store, out-of-home environment," he says.
Brands envision the networks as a more effective way than traditional in-store methods to promote product launches, which more than 60% of the time first come to consumers' awareness when they see new products in the store, notes Ralko. In addition, product cross-promotion logistics are considerably easier with the screen-based digital media than with traditional, paper-based in-store promotions, he says.
One pilot brand participant summed up expectations. "We are extremely impressed with the capabilities 3GTV can deliver, and are anxious for 3GTV to build scale quickly," said Geoff Kuzio, VP with the PepsiCo, Delhaize America Customer Team. (Bloom is one of Delhaize America's retail banners.)
AMS (which foots the costs for the installation of the advertising-supported networks) also cites other advantages of the networks over traditional shelf-talkers and other promotions. One is the ability to provide proof of 100% store compliance in terms of activation of displays and audience reach. (The videos' continuous play, as well as viewership metrics, are verifiable.)
In addition, the digital marketing communications' content can be updated at any time at relatively low cost, versus the time and expense involved in creating and implementing paper-based promotional materials, says Wolinsky. Furthermore, digital is "greener" than soon-discarded paper shelf-talkers and promotional signage, he adds.
According to Booz & Company studies, CPG brands' investments in shopper marketing continue to grow exponentially, now representing an estimated $35 billion annually. Research shows a majority of CPGs citing shopper marketing as their number-one investment, and projecting, on average, 5%-plus annual increases in this spending.