If you have ever stepped over a hole which has apparently opened up at your feet in a shop, then you have encountered floor advertising. Just when you thought retail outlets could not carry any more sales messages, along comes a new medium which shoppers virtually trip over.
This is not just a figure of speech. Marlboro has run a campaign putting 3-D pack images onto the floors of independent confectioners, newsagents and tobacconists (CTNs). The image looks so realistic that shoppers either step over it carefully or stop to try and pick it up. “It is a hit with the sales staff because their customers then talk about it,” says Jessica Hatfield, managing director of The Media Vehicle.
Her company is the driving force behind floor advertising. Historically, in-store opportunities were sold ad-hoc by the multiple chains themselves or by disparate media sales houses. This not only made planning and buying a sales support campaign time-consuming, it also gave the sector a bad image. Anybody who remembers the chaotic early days of trolley media, with Christmas promotions still on view in June, will know just how poorly managed in-store used to be.
“I set up independently with the aim of making it easy to buy,” says Hatfield. Her company is now the sole UK specialist in trolley media, as well as other point-of-sale opportunities. Floor advertising is the latest medium to land at her feet. She was convinced it would have a market because “advertising agencies have to come up with new ideas for clients”.
With blue-chip clients such as Procter & Gamble, SmithKline Beecham, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Kellogg all running about eight floor ad campaigns a year, she appears to have been right. Perhaps the most important factor in finding buyers has been making the medium as easy to buy as outdoor (indeed, Hatfield prefers to call her sector “indoor”).
“We have a very complicated computer system which lists every site by postcode and TV region. So if you are advertising a single impulse product like a chocolate bar in CTNs, you can either buy it nationally, or test it just in Birmingham before roll-out,” she says.
Those who have looked into the medium recognise that floor advertising represents a real opportunity to influence shoppers at point of sale. “So many media come along that are impossible to buy,” says John Wood, client services director of Turnbull Wood Hayes. “I think this could really have some impact.”
This new medium may also provide a useful bridge between brand advertising and sales promotion activity. Clients have long pondered how to ensure that the brand impressions, built up through expensive above-the-line media, do not dissipate before consumers reach the shop. On the other hand, while sales promotions clearly stimulate impulse purchases, many shoppers have made up their minds before they get to the shop.
Richard Ash, director of point-of-purchase specialist Oakley Young, says any leverage brands can get is useful. “When people walk into shops, they are extremely vulnerable. The average supermarket carries 30,000 stock-keeping units. Consumers see 1,500 advertising messages every day, so any point of purchase is important.”
On average, consumers spend one hour shopping. It is remarkable just how complicated their decision-making is within this space of time. While the brand repertoire is a well-established concept with marketers, what few realise is how different advertising techniques influence shoppers at different stages.
Siamack Salari, head of behavioural research at J Walter Thompson, has developed a model of shoppers’ decision-making process. It follows four stages. First, the consumer looks for a reference point, usually the benchmark brand. Then they compare other brands against the benchmark. The third stage is making a final selection, followed by making a final check.
“It is a model and not everybody goes by it – people sometimes jump stages. We have timed how long shoppers spend in stores. In some product categories, they find the reference point in two seconds, in others it is longer. Where that happens, it is an indication of confusion and that the brand mix is not helping people get into selection,” he says.
What makes different in-store advertising techniques applicable at each stage is the level of influence they may have. Shoppers who spend as long on the fourth stage of checking as on all the previous three has a high propensity to switch brands. “The bottom line is, if you can understand where floor advertising will be more effective, in terms of relating the reference point to final choice, you are more likely to achieve a sale,” says Salari.
POP specialists have been wrestling with these issues for some time. The fine art of the gondola, shelf-wobbler or end unit has been honed by thousands of campaigns, judged by millions of sales. One campaign which typifies the power of existing point-of-sale design is the Matchbox shelf unit which has been designed to look like a sports car and is boosting sales.
Retailers are only too aware of the battleground their outlets have become, with the major multiples becoming ever stricter about the quality and quantity of promotions and in-store ads they will accept. Not to mention pocketing ever larger sums for selling the space.
Brands have been forced to look far and wide for new opportunities. “There are always huge pressures on shelf space. Retailers want to maximise every square inch so they are looking at other areas,” says Ash. This is reflected in the chains that have already signed up with The Media Vehicle, including Somerfield, Food Giant, Martins, Dillons and 7-Eleven, with more to be announced shortly.
Ash says the floor is not the only space they have opened up. “We are now using gondolas in the air. Hanging graphics are appearing more and more in the ceiling units. So the floor is the only other area you can go to,” he says. With this new space now available, the important question is how to use it.
EPOS data will reveal how much sales uplift has been achieved. But it can become difficult to separate out the impact of other advertising and competitor activity. Hatfield says her company recommends using an independent research company such as Retail Marketing Services to establish benchmarks.
“RMS assesses stores four weeks before the ads appear to establish the current rate of sales. You can also put in secondary factors, such as the weather, which will show up the weighted change. By using test stores as well, you can see conclusively how many sales result from each form of advertising,” says Hatfield.
But that still doesn’t tell the advertiser where exactly to place ads on the floor. Children’s products can be relatively simply supported by using trails of footprints or islands leading to the shelf. Salari says tests have shown that children use floor ads as “anchor points” which they stand on to wait for their parents. If the ad is in front of a cereal they have just seen advertised on TV, for example, pester power will take over.
Adults are more complex creatures, however. A floor ad should not be used in the same way as signage, says Salari. “It is a way to persuade people to buy a brand. So there is no point in putting it on the floor below the brand, because by the time they get there, they will already have made their choice. It needs to get their attention as they walk through the store, so by the time they get to the shelf, they don’t know why it has become their reference point, but it has,” he says. In this way, floor ads for stock cubes should be placed by the meat counters, for example.
What is remarkable is how quickly shoppers take in visual cues from their surroundings. Floor ads work through peripheral vision, which is how we navigate our path around a store. Most of the time floor ads are only seen in passing, often obscured by the trolley or other shoppers. Yet a consumer can identify a pack shot of Kellogg’s Cornflakes even if they only glimpse it for one-third of a second.
The Media Vehicle has now introduced specialised design facilities to develop 3-D floor ads for clients. Hatfield says this is necessary because of the specialist skills required. “It is not always possible for an agency to create a 3-D image, but there is a lot of excitement about it,” she says.
All that is left to be resolved is where to find the budget to pay for floor ads. “Traditionally, in-store has been bought out of the trade marketing budget. If a store asks for a leaflet to support an on-pack promotion, it comes out of the promotional campaign,” says Wood. “Floor advertising is more like above the line, so it should get money on top of trade marketing.”
As long as clients do not trip over that concept, the shopping aisles could soon be paved with gold.