Whether it is the subtle aroma of fresh cotton being used to sell clothes or the whiff of mince pies to get consumers in the mood for Christmas, pumping fragrances through a retailer’s air conditioning system is an effective way to tempt consumers.
Brand managers looking for the secret to a successful point of purchase campaign are being urged to follow their nose. New technology such as that available from BOC Gases, which feeds carbon dioxide-based aromas into stores such as Woolworths and Superdrug, is being used to raise the profile of what is still considered by many to be an unsung medium.
Although the point of purchase market in the UK is worth more than 350m, it is a rare brand that employs someone in house specifically to work on POP projects. In many cases, responsibility for such campaigns falls to the marketing director who, ultimately, will pass the buck to the hard-pressed brand manager.
It is also puzzling that in-store merchandising and promotion is not given a higher profile by agencies, particularly as up to 70 per cent of purchasing decisions are not made until the consumer has walked through the retailer’s doors, according to a survey by the trade association Point of Purchase Advertising Institute (POPAI).
Nevertheless, there is evidence that attitudes could be changing, and a realisation that POP can be used more strategically. Not just by employing new techniques such as persuasive smells or elaborate visuals, but by employing the skills of agency planners.
J Walter Thompson began to reassess its approach to POP a few years ago, when responsibility for the medium was handed to brand communications director David Hall.
“We now look at POP as one of the tools in the box alongside advertising, direct marketing, PR and sponsorship,” he says.
The view of many other agencies and brand managers towards POP also appears to be shifting, prompted by a couple of factors. Firstly, there is an acceptance that many consumers are becoming media weary and more inclined to leave their purchasing decisions until the last minute, while the expansion of cable and satellite television channels has made it much more difficult to reach all consumers with an effective TV advertising campaign while remaining within budget.
Evan Ivey, planning director at Aspen Business Communications, says he can foresee a time when he advises a client to allocate all their promotional budget to POP. “At the moment it accounts for less than ten per cent of a client’s overall spend, but our planning department is always looking at more strategic ways to use POP,” he says.
Aspen has already persuaded Samsung to invest heavily in POP to boost sales of its computer monitors. Samsung wanted to convince consumers to purchase individual components when buying a computer system rather than what it describes as “bungled” packages. Ivey says: “We went for POP because we had to do more than just raise awareness – we needed one last stab at consumers to influence even those who may have already made up their minds by demonstrating in store the quality of Samsung’s products. Consumers can be persuaded at the last minute.”
There is still some debate about whether agencies should employ planners to run POP campaigns. Richard Ash, deputy managing director of Oakley Young, says because POP is a strategic marketing tool and not like traditional advertising a different approach is needed. “We have teams of production managers rather than planners who follow a concept through from design origination to delivery to the retailer,” he says.
Stephen Henley, a director of point of purchase consultancy Fords, says planners are needed because of the timescale involved in launching a brand, and the importance of knowing precisely when and where to unveil a promotion. “It goes back to research, and we have planners working on techniques that will tell us everything, including how many people are likely to visit a fixture in a shop – and when.”
NDI is another specialist company which believes in planning and researching POP. It offers clients in-store testing facilities that can include POP audits, display positioning assessment and merchandising “planogram” changes.
At many advertising or sales promotion agencies, however, planners who have worked on a brand’s advertising campaign are usually best suited to advise on what direction a POP promotion should take. James Mackenzie, a director at Interfocus, says it is rarely cost-effective to employ a full-time POP planner. “POP should be used to complement other, soft-sell, approaches and should be phased in to get maximum benefit of any advertising campaign,” he says.
He adds that many brands are still reluctant to allocate large budgets to POP because it is almost impossible to assess the results of specific campaigns. “But POP still requires an understanding of what the brand can do, how the relationship between the consumer, the brand and the sales person will work at the point of contact and how to apply the tactical message – all of which the planner is best positioned to advise on.”
For some companies, such as those in the tobacco industry, POP is not just an option but an essential ingredient in any marketing recipe. A spokeswoman for Rothmans (UK), Nicky Donnelly, says when the Government announced plans to ban most tobacco advertising and sponsorship, the company had to ensure its POP displays worked even harder for the brand.
“We are looking closely at what we can do and are having discussions with the Government to see which POP is appropriate and to ensure we still have some marketing freedom,” says Donnelly.
At the end of 1996, under the terms of the Voluntary Agreement on Tobacco Advertising and Promotion, cigarette brands agreed to remove fascias, illuminated signs, wall boards, full window dressings and branded blinds from retail outlets. Today the only permanent POP material allowed includes internal showcases, supermarket units and open and closed signs, while semi-permanent material permitted can include small window stickers, cash register and price stickers, till tidies and shelf strips.
While the tobacco companies rely heavily on POP to get their message across, the banking and building society industry is a prime example of a sector that has only recently begun to realise the medium’s potential. After a couple of black days in the City in recent years, financial institutions noticed that they could boost sales of products such as pensions, mortgages or insurance by capturing their customers’ attention when they came into the branches.
The Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society completely overhauled its in-store merchandising four years ago. “We decided to move into a more retail environment and look seriously at where we sited displays. We did some research to find out where the hot-spots in the branch were and revamped and redesigned the leaflets and the dispensers. These are now placed in the walkways between the doors and the counters rather than on the walls,” says C&G’s general manager Chris Steele.
Marks & Spencer worked with Evans Petty Associates to plan a POP campaign for the financial services areas in its top 50 stores. Chris Larkin, a spokesman for Marks & Spencer Financial, says the chain needed to encourage customers to call in and ask for more details. “An environment had to be created that incorporated the 100-year-old values of M&S while giving the financial services area a distinctive look,” he says.
While brands and agencies accept the need to be strategic in their POP planning, it is important they do not underestimate the power of the retailer in deciding what is promoted in store and how exactly it is merchandised. The competitive nature of the multiple retail sector, for instance, means there are more opportunities than ever for shelf promotions and shops-within-shops displays, but there is also a huge demand on space which sometimes has to be booked weeks or months in advance.
Stores will place strict conditions on what they will allow to ensure their own corporate image and brand is not affected. If a company is considering a shop-within-shop approach, such as the Kickers shoe brand outlet at the Shellys store in Edinburgh, retailers will want to manage these areas themselves or demand assurances from the company that there is a merchandising team travelling around the country keeping the displays in good condition and up to date.
Even for standard shelf and gondola displays, stores will have a number of conditions. Boots has strict POP guidelines for its stores which include ensuring all dis play material blends in with the chain’s own shopfitting designs. Window displays featuring a number of brands must also complement each other.
“We work with suppliers to come up with POP ideas. The 3-for-2 offer was something we introduced for own-label products but later invited brands to get involved with,” says Boots merchandising manager Tim Legge.
The pressure on retail space brought about by a retailer’s own label products is another obstacle being placed in front of brands carefully planning a POP campaign. Richard Ash of Oakley Young says: “The reduction in space could see some smaller brands squeezed out of the market altogether, but as long as brand X and brand Y are next to each other there will be POP.”
Rupert Postlethwaite, a director of agency Marketing Drive, says retailers must not only like the way a POP campaign fits in with their store’s image, but it must be obvious how sales will improve. “There has to be an offer that the consumer and the retailer can get excited about. But POP is becoming more sexy with many interactive ideas using smell, visual effects and sound, all innovative ideas that will hopefully mean consumers stay longer to consider their purchase.”