Marketing to look down on

Is floor advertising the answer to increasingly cluttered shopping environments? Some doubt its worth, but there are already many success stories when used imaginatively, says David Benady

As in-store environments become ever more crowded, retailers are turning their attentions to the last place customers would expect to find promotional messages – right under their noses.

Advertising communication has hit the floor, and these days the forecourts of rail stations, the edges of steps in tube stations and the floors of stores and shopping centres have ads plastered all over them.

With promotional material already hanging from the ceiling, looming out from shelves and displayed across store walls, the point-of-purchase industry is gazing downwards to find the next promotional el Dorado. Brands use the panels either for branding campaigns or “directionally” (giving directions to a stand or promotional area).

Brands wanting to advertise on floorspace can go to Tesco Media and pay £400 for each A0 floor panel (about the size of 16 sheets of A4) for four weeks in the chain’s 400 stores. The retailer offers to place stickers on the panels with brand messages. Tesco sells an estimated £800,000 of floor media a year. A spokeswoman says floor media is often used in conjunction with other media at the chain, such as posters, petrol-pump nozzles and trolleys and baskets.

How low can you go?

Adrail, which sells media space for rail stations, says it charges £16,000 a month for two panels measuring four metres by four metres and 70 smaller directional panels. This includes production and removal. David Pugh, managing director of Maiden Group, which runs Adrail, says: “This is good value when you consider that 9 million people will pass through the station in that month, 82 per cent of them being ABC1s.” The company started offering floor media about four years ago and now sells about £1m worth of space annually. “It has grown every year because it is a good creative opportunity for advertisers,” adds Pugh. Even so, it is still a long way from the situation in the US, where floor media is worth about $100m (£57m) a year.

Examples of floor-level creativity include American Express taking a panel last summer at Wimbledon rail station to tie in with the tennis finals. About half of Adrail’s sales are for directional floor media, using the floor to guide people to areas of interest. Microsoft recently put dinosaur prints down on a number of rail station concourses leading to a stand where it was showcasing its software. This ties in with its campaign portraying the computer illiterate as dinosaurs. BT used floor media to direct people to its internet terminals in rail stations.

And now, not content with littering their floors and walkways with messages and designs, retailers are going one stage further with the launch of television embedded in the floor. The Plaza in Oxford Street has become the UK’s first shopping centre to install “Flasma”, a floor-set 40″ flat LCD TV screen designed to display advertisements and provide information and directions for shoppers.

Bryony Parkin, a marketing consultant at Savills, which acts as managing agents for The Plaza, says: “Flasma is ideal in helping boost footfall for stores within a shopping centre environment, acting as a tool to drive customers into stores and get them to that all-important point of purchase.”

She says Flasma offers previously unavailable flexibility in communicating with the 4.7 million shoppers that frequent The Plaza each year, many of whom have comparatively high spending power. And she believes that Flasma will keep the shopping centre “at the forefront of technology” and creates an impression of being innovative and forward thinking.

Plenty of room down below

Parkin adds: “Space for promotional activity in shopping centres has a value, as the wall space is taken up with store fronts. Flasma provides an interesting new cost-effective marketing medium for the retailers in the centre. Flasmas can also be strategically placed according to where the highest footfall is, and can be used for a number of purposes, potentially making it a very powerful medium.”

The floor technology has also been used by the likes of Holmes Place, Medicentre and Uniqlo, which have outlets in the Plaza. Flasma managing director Richard Lee says: “In addition to use in shopping centres, retailers can also benefit from Flasma by positioning them in-store at the point of purchase. For instance, Flasmas are trialling in a Nationwide Building Society, with research being undertaken to measure how Flasma screens affect consumer behaviour.”

Talking about the mechanics of the medium, Lee adds: “Sophisticated software enables information to be altered or updated on each Flasma screen in seconds – providing shoppers with the latest information, promotions and © special offers. Also, shopping centres and retailers, as media space owners, will benefit from the potential revenue Flasmas can generate when used to screen advertisements.”

But the advent of in-floor TV screens and the use of static floor media is treated with scepticism by some in the point-of-purchase industry, who believe it will just add to the cluttered environment of many stores and shopping centres and will do little to stimulate purchases.

Co-op was one of the first retailers to experiment with floor plasma screens at a store in Oxfordshire, but it was reported that customers were “ambivalent” about walking over the screens and it eventually suspended the trial.

Some doubt that floor media can ever becoming compelling for consumers. As Brad Fairhead, a partner at Happen, part of Fallon, says: “Point of purchase is, by its nature, about cluttered environments with products and signage everywhere. What value is an in-floor TV screen offering this audience? And just how valuable is this form of advertising space to a brand? Not very. Who wants their brand to be walked all over?”

Good grounding required

Fairhead believes in-floor TV will have to work hard to get through to people as they are pressed for time and are looking to get out of the shopping environment as quickly as possible. He does think there is an opportunity to connect with people who are browsing, though he warns that the content will have to be impressive to make an impact. “It’s going to have to be very valuable and compelling content if it’s to avoid the trap of just becoming more wallpaper in a cluttered environment. And, all too often, in-store TV uses either a TV ad, or a piece of content that looks like brochureware. Until clients and agencies understand the medium and how a consumer could interact with it, it will remain an unrewarding consumer experience and will have limited success,” he says.

Making a commitment

Big stores and shopping centres are trying to build up the “experiential” aspect of shopping, so the content on the screens needs to be specially developed for the situation. A big question surrounding in-store TV in general – whether embedded in the floor or in a gallery along the wall – is whether retailers will have the long-term commitment to developing eye-catching content.

As Fairhead says: “Floor media does work if it is part of an integrated programme of activity. Its main success is its ability to be moved quickly (so that it is next to the product), its creative flexibility and the fact that it’s cheap and easy to develop. In-floor TV is not flexible (presumably the units are embedded), it is a creative horror story and is not cheap to fulfil.”

As with any innovation, novelty value is high but quickly ebbs away. The first time people see in-floor screens, they stand there looking at them in amazement. After the initial thrill, the content of the screens could become little more than a blip in the corner of the eye. Nick Brand, creative director of visual specialists Brand Design, says retailers have been trying out floor media for years, whether through self-adhesive graphics or “walk this way” footprints leading to an in-store hotspot, such as a special offer. But he adds: “We don’t feel it works, it is the wrong eye-line. It is a strange area because you are walking over it. Anything from waist height down is always dangerous. With the floor, it is only when you are on top of it that you can take in the information.”

Sainsbury’s employed floor media in some stores to back its Active Kids promotion, using a hopscotch in the entrance to the fruit and vegetable aisle. Nicole Blair, group account director at Dynamo Marketing, which developed the design, says it worked because the idea was innovative and at the heart of the campaign. Shoppers receive extra vouchers for buying fruit and vegetables and the hopscotch implies children’s activity, so the floor media tied in perfectly with the wider campaign. “Floor media needs to be selective in its use,” she says.

What lies beneath

Research into shoppers’ habits undertaken by Dynamo for Sainsbury’s reveals that shoppers tend not to pay much attention to the hanging placards that are a feature of many superstores and hypermarkets that have high ceilings. They tend not to look up when they are shopping, but will often look downwards when they are searching for products on a lower shelf, putting goods in their trolleys or looking after children.

It seems likely floor media will be used increasingly, though sparingly, in the future. But it must be done with creativity and imagination. Whether in-floor TV takes off will also depend on the way the content is created and the extent to which it is useful and entertaining for shoppers.

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