Sense & sensibility

Point of purchase is a visual medium, but some marketers are looking at how it can appeal to the other senses, says Victoria Furness

The smell of coffee, the touch of silk and the sound of waves are images that are often used by marketers in television and print advertising to create an emotional tie between their brand and consumers. But rarely are the senses themselves used by advertisers and marketers at the point of sale.

More often than not, point of purchase (PoP) relies on appealing to the eye, whether through attention-grabbing graphics or new screen technologies. “The cornerstone of whatever is done in PoP is visual impact,” believes Ibrahim Ibrahim, managing director at Portland Design Associates. “The first thing a brand must do is engage with a consumer, and stimulating the visual sense is a major part of this.”

Making eye contact

But if most marketers rely on sight to get their message across to consumers, there is the chance their brand message will drown in a sea of white noise. With so much visual competition from other brands, many marketers are looking at how they can make their message more relevant to their target market. “The idea of experiential marketing and selling through the senses has become the latest buzzword,” claims Simon Harrop, managing director of the Aroma Company, which develops products that release a fragrance on PoP displays.

Smell, in particular, has come under the marketer’s radar. “At the In-Store Marketing show two years ago, there was one smell-based company; this year there were five,” says Martin Kingdon, general manager of trade body Point of Purchase Advertising International (POPAI) UK. Along with this, the Aroma Company has seen revenue double year on year during the past three years and it expects to make just under &£1m in revenue this year.

Smell has long been used in stores, for example, to pump out the smell of fresh bread in the bakery department. But the Aroma Company focuses less on scenting the ambience and prefers to give the consumer a flavour of particular products. For example, its Poparoma product is a device that sits on the shelf-edge cards and releases a waft of the brand or product’s fragrance when squeezed. The latest company it has worked with – and its first savoury product – is Unilever Bestfoods to promote the new bacon-flavoured Pot Noodle.

Design agency Sector Design recently incorporated the Poparoma technology into its display for SC Johnson’s Glade Duet Air Care range. “One of the key product benefits is the fragrance, and the client wanted consumers to have the opportunity to self-sample the scent in-store without having to break open the packaging or wait until they got home,” says Sector Design’s sales and marketing director Andrew Hampson. The agency claims that following the campaign, SC Johnson’s share of the continuous action air-care market increased from 54 per cent to 62 per cent.

Smell is not the only sense to have been experimented with. “Sound has been tried on a number of occasions, for example, through talking displays or motion sensors,” explains POPAI’s Kingdon. “But generally it has not worked because of staff resistance. That is not to say that the medium itself will never work, but brand managers need to find a better targeted way of using it.”

The organisation recently collaborated with Logitech and PC World to test how the use of sound in the speaker category could influence consumers’ buying behaviour. “The sound element was used simply because it was the most appropriate method to highlight the product,” says Kingdon. “The type of messages conveyed were examples of different sounds – such as helicopter and motorbike noises – to allow people to judge the quality of the speaker sound.”

Sounding off

The results of the experiment came down heavily in favour of sound. In the stores demonstrating the Logitech Comparitor Unit (the PoP brand being used in the experiment), an additional 25 per cent of customers interacted with the speaker and, overall, customers spent 53 per cent more time in the speaker category aisle. In terms of sales uplift, sales of the total speaker category increased by 10.4 per cent by volume and 7.9 per cent by value when compared with stores that did not have a Speaker Comparitor Unit.

While both the senses of smell and sound rely heavily on technology, the sense of touch can be more easily recreated at the point of sale, and is often used in conjunction with other interactive elements. Portland Design, for example, created a giant lilac cow for the Milka chocolate brand. The cow featured a fur head and tail and, according to managing director Ibrahim, proved to be very popular with consumers.

Another agency that has been developing PoP displays with a tactile element is CPI UK. Last year, it created a display for the New Balance trainer that featured all the components of a shoe – which consumers were encouraged to touch. “It helped the customer understand the workmanship that goes into the shoe,” says CPI marketing manager Stewart Wagstaffe. New Balance has already commissioned a new version of the display, suggesting that it was a success with customers.

Similarly, Coley Porter Bell (CPB) created a unit to advertise a new textured paint brand from Dulex called Nature’s Touch. “The range was inspired by the textures in nature, such as pebbles on a beach, so we explored units that brought tactility to life,” says creative director Martin Grimer.

Can I touch it?

Another area where CPB used tactility was in a unit designed for Innocent Smoothies. The brand represents freshness and nature, so to emphasise the point CPB designed a chiller cabinet display that was covered in Astroturf. “At the end of the day the core of our PoP work is visual, so tactility is the easiest sensory move to make at the moment,” says Grimer. “Looking into the future, it would be great to have the smell of cut grass on the shelf next to the Innocent Smoothies range.”

Of all the senses, taste is undoubtedly the one used least in PoP displays. “The problem with taste is that it means people are going to put something in their mouth, which brings in the hygiene issue,” says CPI’s Wagstaffe. It also raises issues about cost and maintenance of the units.

Many of these practical limitations are what have prevented marketers from experimenting with more innovative displays earlier. “Using the other senses in PoP displays can work, but there are some impediments,” admits Portland Design’s Ibrahim. “For example, if the smell is overpowering it can irritate customers or mix with other product categories and create confusion.”

To enhance the longevity of the displays created for Glade Duet Air Care range, Sector Design provided stores with inserts to convert the display to a conventional shelf fitting when the fragrance ran out. Sector Design’s Hampson admits this can make the on-going maintenance of the display costly. “Therefore, for even short-term initiatives, we will always advise that the cost of replacement is included in the original budget,” he says.

Another question mark hanging over the use of the other senses in PoP units is whether shoppers find it too intrusive. But POPAI’s Kingdon argues this is not always the case: “We have seen that customers like to have more information than less. If they are buying something where smell is the main constituent, we think it helps to have it there.” The Aroma Company’s Harrop argues that its products are unobtrusive because customers choose whether to interact with them and smell the fragrance. “It does not waft the aroma half-way down the aisle,” he argues.

Smells like entrepreneurial spirit

While Harrop is understandably a fierce advocate of the use of smell at PoP, he is realistic about its limitations. “Smell alone is not powerful enough to be associated with a brand,” he says. “We call it the ‘oh yes, of course’ syndrome, whereby consumers may not be able to instantly recognise a smell, but when they see the packaging, they say: ‘oh yes, of course.'”

While all parties may not agree on experimenting with the other senses, they are unanimous on the importance of PoP in marketing brands. “PoP is the only place where the product, the message, the consumer and the means to buy are in the same place at the same time,” says Harrop.

There are also many ways to measure the effectiveness of PoP – whether as a display using sight, smell, sound, touch or taste. “We use a multi-method approach combining questionnaires, eye-marking and filming,” explains Siemon Scamell-Katz, chairman of ID Magasin, a retail research and design company. “It is important to measure behaviour as well as sales, because there may be other factors influencing sales, such as the number of people in the aisles.”

For marketers, the decision behind what type of PoP display should be used is the same whatever the senses evoked. Units that appeal to the other senses may be the latest trend in PoP, but if they are to have longevity they need to be relevant to the target audience, and ultimately convince shoppers to buy the product. “At the moment, it’s a nice new thing to check the smell of something,” says POPAI’s Kingdon. “Only time will tell whether it becomes a permanent part of the shopping experience.”

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