Even 30 years ago it is unlikely that retailers and brands would have predicted that the relentless progression towards superstores and the dizzying variety of products on offer would have transformed shopping into a chore rather than an exciting experience.
As stores have grown and product variety boomed, the irony is that both retailers and brand marketers have made a rod for their own backs. Spoilt for choice, and increasingly time-poor, shoppers have become single-minded and more difficult to charm. The result: point of purchase (PoP) has become an increasingly pressured scene where brands are inclined to do anything just to gain attention.
“The key is to remember that people are shopping in a restricted zone,” says Gordon Bethell, joint managing partner at retail marketing services agency Gratterpalm. “It’s what some term ‘auto-pilot’ or a ‘trance state’ and is driven by our paradox of greater choice and less time. We’ve all shopped with a single-minded focus to get what we need and go – our brains quickly filter what is important and what isn’t.”
Bethell says that to get a brand noticed, the shopper’s mindset needs to be disrupted, though not with an irrelevant activity.
But how easy is it to discern what an irrelevant activity is? For some the connection is not that obvious. Guy Hepplewhite, managing partner at integrated agency Space, says: “The recent and much-hyped gorilla ad for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk offers an interesting example. It’s true that there’s little connection between a gorilla and the original glass-and-a-half slab of chocolate. But that really isn’t the point. The point is all about the three-letter, one-word equity or essence that sits at the heart of the brand’s make-up – joy.”
As he observes, the choice of creature was not important. “What would have mattered,” he says, “is if they’d blown the opportunity to convey the sentiment of joy at the heart of this brand and the consumer’s relationship with that bar of chocolate, and they didn’t.”
He continues: “When it comes to in-store the brand team has the perfect opportunity to embrace joy and make absolutely sure it becomes intrinsic to the consumer’s shopping experience. My only concern is that to date, I’ve seen precious little to suggest that’s the case.”
Part of the problem has to be the already crowded shopping environment which director of Beswick Design, Chris Hayward, says has forced PoP to develop much further compared to what he calls the “quieter European stores”. He says: “Of course, everyone is vying to get their product, brand or store noticed but there simply is no one solution for the best way to do it.”
Says Matt Millington, marketing and innovation manager at Sheridan & Co: “Packaging and product design and more importantly, the way you put the product in front of your consumers should be the first port of call.”
But as everyone knows, standing out in today’s shopping environment is not easy. Says Andrew Hovells, planner at TBWA Manchester: “By the most conservative estimate today’s consumer is bombarded with 500 advertising messages a day. Naturally the consumer has evolved a highly developed filter.
“Consumers block out annoying urban spam and only engage with what’s interesting or useful.
“We also need to delight – add to their experience.
“There are universal pressure points in any shop – from the first 10ft of a store where you get your bearings to the unbearable wait to pay. The more we understand what is motivating the shopper while they’re shopping, the more likely we’ll be able to earn their attention.”
Maybe the answer is to leave the theatrics for outside the retail environment. Michael Brown, managing director of Beatwax – a marketing agency and part of The Picture Production Company Group – comments: “Most brands want to engage consumers and anything they can do in terms of making a statement outside the retail environment is preferable. But you need deep pockets for that.”
Brown acknowledges that brands are competing not only against each other but also against the biggest brand of all – the supermarket. Because of the stranglehold that supermarkets have over brands and suppliers, a more subtle approach is needed – one in which there is a very clear understanding of the target consumers and their motivations.
Rebecca Hirst, Kleenex brand manager at Kimberly-Clark, comments: “Key for Kleenex is visibility, driven by impulse and secondary sitings. We know only 15 % of people go down the facial tissue aisle but that once they’re there, 92 % of them will make a purchase. We’ve focused on brand blocking, developing a hot spot and clear signage.”
However, even Kleenex tried a gorilla-suit tactic recently – a team of Singing Sneezers serenaded commuters at stations and so on.
Again it seems that the most effective activity takes place outside the shopping environment. Maybe the problem does not lie with the gorilla tactics themselves but the context they are used in.
Says Mark Williams, director of Exentio Experiential Marketing: “Marketers should perhaps be asking themselves how receptive consumers really are to surprise tactics in a supermarket. The idea is to turn an interesting experience into a memorable one.”
But as he cautions, if the consumer goes home and doesn’t associate the brand with what they’ve just seen, the marketing opportunity simply hasn’t worked.