Online video is currently receiving a lot of attention, but its reach is still limited by a dearth of inventory. In-store media, on the other hand, reaches millions each week and provides an opportunity to influence people at the point of purchase. The Wal-Mart TV Network already rivals broadcast networks in terms of weekly reach, and market research firm Frost & Sullivan says that by 2011, 90% of retailers will have in-store digital screens.
Some shoppers will be too preoccupied with loaded shopping carts and unruly children to attend to the screens, but the evidence so far suggests that many people are looking at them. A Nielsen Media Research study gauged overall SignStorey viewership in Albertsons and Pathmark at close to 40%.
Despite its scale, in-store advertising has had only patchy success to date. In the U.K., the major grocery chain Tesco endured three years of lackluster results before figuring out what really drives in-store success: brevity. While online advertisers debate whether a pre-roll of 15 seconds is too long, Tesco's marketing partner Dunnhumby recommends five seconds for screens placed in the main shopping aisles, because the power of these "alerts" rests not in their creativity but in their proximity to purchase. The alerts reported to be most effective are those for price-off events and new or seasonal items.
And that's both the strength and weakness of in-store video. Because its influence is concentrated at the point of purchase, it will be most successful for categories that are already impulse- or activation-oriented. Though useful for encouraging switching, in-store video is not as good at building long-term brand loyalty.
Moreover, in-store is a very complex medium; many factors influence its efficacy. In deciding what message should be conveyed, and where a screen might best be located, advertisers need to consider the likely attitude of shoppers when they come across the advertising.
Shopper mindset will vary according to the type of store and the items being purchased, as well as the point during the shopping trip in which the advertising is encountered. Someone in the market for an HDTV screen who is unsure of the benefits of plasma versus LCD may appreciate a five-minute video on the topic. But someone in the grocery section of the local supermarket is unlikely to devote that amount of time to a video. In that setting, a quick news flash or reminder will work far better than an infomercial. The checkout line is yet another story; as they wait in line, shoppers will welcome some distraction to pass the time.
The mindset of the online viewer is much more consistent across viewing situations. People are likely to pay attention to in-stream ads placed in content they really want to see. This makes online a great brand-building medium, capable of planting ideas among people who have not yet realized a need for the advertised product or service.
As inventory scales and the potential reach of online video improves, it may one day provide the ideal complement to in-store video. Online video can seed ideas and associations which can then be triggered by in-store video at the point of purchase, making for a truly powerful combination.