Will trolley telly trump broadcast?

For marketers, it’s not a message that resonates with evangelical fervour. But the movement has its own prophet (though one without honour in his own house, if Nestlé’s recent outburst is any indication). And that prophet, Andrew Harrison, has largely been proved right: retail is the new medium.

This conclusion has become inescapable now that 70 per cent of the UK population regularly visits one of the big five supermarket chains. When Harrison first took his message to the speaking platform about four years ago, he was mainly thinking of such pedestrian issues as the cost-effectiveness of gondola ends compared with the part of his marketing budget spent on mainstream television advertising. Though he did not suggest retail was ultimately an alternative to TV advertising, he did supply plenty of reasons why it was gradually eroding Nestlé’s TV advertising budget.

The argument has not lost force with time. In part, this is because of increasing concentration within the supermarket sector at the expense of convenience stores and others (WH Smith and Boots, step forward). But it is also because the supermarkets are capitalising on their increasing strength by creating direct broadcast competition with ITV. The traditionally dull but useful paraphernalia of six-sheet store posters, trolley-, floor- and shelf-space is now being supplemented by an in-store TV revolution, led by Tesco.

How much does this challenge threaten the supremacy of the 30-second mainstream TV spot? Some of the figures are surprisingly inviting. Tesco TV (leaving aside any increment that other supermarket chains may hope to achieve) is expected to reach 10 million shoppers a week, which compares with the average audience figure for I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!. And access to it would undoubtedly be a lot cheaper than a spot purchased on ITV. What’s more, the environment in which Tesco TV ads are viewed would, theoretically, be a lot more conducive to purchase than ads viewed on ITV. As POPAI is fond of pointing out, only 25 per cent of consumer purchases are pre-planned, leaving 75 per cent to be made in store.

Of course, there’s a large flaw in the in-store TV argument, precisely related to viewing environment. Let’s turn POPAI’s argument on its head. Not all advertising is, or should be, designed to trigger immediate purchase. Arguably, that 25 per cent is qualitatively more important than the 75 per cent, because it frames awareness and emotional affinity with brands before a visit is ever made to the store. Nor can in-store TV reproduce the passive, receptive mindset created by good content on mainstream TV. Stores are noisy and crowded; it is possible that TV screens will only add to a sense of claustrophobia and oppression. What is certain is the ads will be better suited to a ten- than to a 30-second duration, which puts severe constraints on creativity.

Add to that the lack of agreed viewing measurement statistics for in-store TV. Then take into account the fact that retailers have had limited success in persuading advertisers to dip into their consumer, rather than trade, budgets. It can be seen that in-store TV has a long way to go before it seriously challenges broadcast. But ignoring its appeal would be foolishly complacent.

Stuart Smith, Editor

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