The media owners of the 21st century will be retailers.” Before dismissing the thought, consider the possibilities. A retail outlet is a five senses environment which the shopper chooses to visit. Within it, the retailer allows brand manufacturers to distribute and promote goods. But shops also add in the “editorial” content of their own brand values – the character, quality, shape and even smell which differentiates Tesco from Sainsbury’s and Sainsbury’s from Safeway.
If a manufacturer’s activities or products begin to clash with those own-brand qualities, it risks being excluded. There is little difference, viewed in this abstract way, between retailing and commercial TV. Except the top five multiples now take over 60 per cent of UK grocery sales, according to Datamonitor, while ITV’s share of audience has slid below 50 per cent.
One retailer may have 15 million footfalls per week, estimates Nigel Petty, director of Evans Petty Associates, who draws the analogy with media. That puts retail owners in a powerful position with regard to both their customers and clients. If a dispute were to arise about in-store promotional activity, who would resolve it?
The issue is complicated by the fact that point of purchase can cover a vast range of activities, from branded fascias to cooler cabinets, through shelf wobblers, dump bins and take-ones, and including any of the innovative merchandising techniques now involved in point of sale (POS). The agencies and suppliers who specialise in this sector may deal with a broad spectrum of briefs. Petty says in the past week his agency carried out a store installation in Bromley, put 100 tonnes of snow on the beach at Blackpool and did research into the values and brand properties of cheese.
Which body would have authority over such a marketing services provider should a client challenge the quality of its delivery, or a production company complain about the terms of a contract? In fact, Evans Petty is a member of both the Point Of Purchase Advertising Institute (Popai) Europe and of the Market Research Society.
Point of purchase is becoming more important as retailer power grows, and the retailer/manufacturer relationship enters a new phase. For example, the Efficient Consumer Response initiative being developed by the Institute of Grocery Distribution has, as one of its aims, more efficient management of promotional activity. Having a reference point for the design, development and implementation of POS advertising is therefore vital.
That is precisely what Popai Europe hopes to put in place with its recently-published Standards of Practice. A 26-page document issued across Europe, it sets down guidelines for the responsibilities of clients, agencies and production companies. It also outlines the law on competition and intellectual copyright, and reproduces the ethical code of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply.
According to David Williams, chairman of Popai Europe and chairman/chief executive of NDI Display Group, the international dimension is important. The Institute was originally founded in the US in 1936. It has just moved to Washington DC with a full-time staff of 24, and crossed to Europe with the opening of its Paris office in 1988. Paris is still the headquarters, even though the UK has moved ahead of France in terms of membership.
Williams says: “Popai has a set of standards in the US which forms the foundations for ours. The initiative in Europe is to create common standards. Because the in dustry is at the lower end of the marketing mix, it needs to be seen as more professional. The basic principles are the same, but the details on legal issues vary from country to country.”
Any trade association faces two issues when trying to establish itself and its standards. Firstly, it has to be sure members will adhere to the rules, and secondly, it has to have sufficient authority in the market to make membership and use of the standards meaningful. According to Williams, the first point is covered by the usual trade body requirement: that members adhere to the Institute’s rules.
“In the UK there are probably no more than 150 prime operators in this field, many of them smaller businesses. We’ve got 50 members who represent a mix across all sectors because our aim is to cover all interests including advertisers and retailers. We have not done terribly well with the latter, but we have got Sainsbury’s,” he says.
The presence within Popai of Cadbury, Bass Charrington, Trebor Bassett and Rothmans does add weight. John Bridge, advertising services purchasing manager at Rothmans of Pall Mall (International), says: “It is something that was needed. Last year it became
what I would describe as a credible organisation.”
He accepts it is important to have guidelines on issues such as creative standards and ownership of designs and production tools. Although his own company has not experienced any problems, the potential for conflict is there since it operates an in-house design studio as well as commissioning external agencies.
Bridge notes the cut-off point between marketing activities is not always clear, and this tends to blur the boundaries of authority. “POS treads on the toes of other, more long-established organisations. It is very wrapped up with shop fitting. In our industry, there are so many restrictions on basic communications media – press, TV – that there is a lot of emphasis on what we do at point of sale. Shop fitting, sales promotion, POS and merchandising equipment – I see them as being completely intertwined,” he says.
At the Shop-fitting and Display Equipment Association (SDEA), director Lawrence Cutler, however, is not concerned that Popai is moving into his sphere of influence. He sees more differences than similarities between the two activities: “The difference from POS is they do everything for one client only and so it is always unique. Ours is gener ally manufactured items which are then embellished and covered to be distinctive.”
This removes the issue of intellectual copyright which is one of Popai Europe’s major concerns. And Cutler says he only gets one phone call per year at worst to do with a trade dispute between members and clients. The other possible area of overlap for the Institute is with below-the-line trade bodies. “We are not taking anything away from the Institute of Sales Promotion,” argues Williams. “Our interests are specialised. But I do accept we are a tool of sales promotion. I was at a sales meeting this morning where the client was a sales promotion agency.”
For Popai to build a really heavyweight membership, it might have to look more closely at persuading leading SP agencies and their clients to take up joint membership. Point of sale is a critical communications opportunity for brands and many campaigns rely on POP techniques for their sales impact.
This year’s ISP Grand Prix winner was a campaign for Southern Comfort produced by IMP which consisted of an on-trade instant win mechanic.
Yet many in that sector remain unaware of Popai. At Fingerhut Associates, which has created a promotional and POS package for Tesco’s Summer Fruits campaign, managing director Jonathan Fingerhut notes the Institute has not solicited his agency. He acknowledges the importance of trade associations and standards of practice, especially in the sensitive area of retailer-brand manufacturer relationships.
“With the power of the multiples, they say if you want POS, there is key money or “advertising contribution” to be paid. But how do you judge if you are getting value for money on behalf of a client? They will often accede to offers in order to build a relationship,” he says. Strong trade bodies, such as those which exist above the line, can tackle any dirty tricks which come to light. The first Pliatzky report into commercial production costs is a prime example of effective intervention.
But with the ISP more concerned to build bridges with the Sales Promotion Consultants’ Association and to nestle up to the Advertising Standards Authority, it seems unlikely that POS practitioners will get any other support than what is on offer through Popai.
Williams believes the time is right to push the point of purchase agenda, and he sees the Standards of Practice as an important promotional vehicle. “We all know the potential problems are the same as any other marketing sector: paying design fees; printing and production quality; copyright and ownership. Those are as relevant in our area as in any other aspect of the mix. Prevention is better than cure,” he says.
Lest anyone should think the problems of a few small POP agencies do not amount to much, Petty points out that some major advertising issues remain equally unresolved. “One problem we see is to do with quality and standards, where there are differences between subjective and objective views. Any way we can impose a fair standard on suppliers, or be able to communicate to clients what we mean, is important. Even in above the line, for example, there is no definitive guide to standards of print,” he says.
Ask not what your trade association is doing for you, but rather what you are doing to help your trade association, would appear to be the message.