Monday, March 31, 2008

Brave new world of emerging media

You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art"
-- Aldous Huxley

Lately, advertisers seem almost giddy at the prospect of all the new media channels available for selling product and creating brand images. Imagining all the ways digital media allows us to break out of flat spaces is a designer’s dream. Adweek highlighted the new Scion urban street displays, where passersby approaching the store window experience the cars moving further away. The Japanese are already masterful at using old and new digital media for short burst campaigns: the pop star Ayumi Hamasaki’s last concert featured a fleet of “tribute vans” each airbrushed with a different alluring image of Ayumi, tractor trailers wrapped with her album cover, and huge digital signs peppering the Tokyo skyline.

But those who venture into this Brave New World of Bluecasting, moving screens, and SMS often have trouble demonstrating how such venues will actually pay off in sales and profit. And then the biggest venues for marketing can complicate life with gate keeping techniques or worse, allowing your competitors to siphon off customers (think of the complaints about Google’s new “search within a search” feature.) Not only does it undermine a company’s ability to get to consumers first, but it can be counterintuitive. Like diet books advertised on a gourmet recipe page featuring molten chocolate cakes, if you don’t know the big Freudian question (what DO consumers want?) digital media can easily confuse or annoy rather than entice. Emerging channels are new to both the seller and the buyer. The savvy media campaign takes a line from Lou Reed and engages both sides in the “beginning of a great adventure.”

Companies need to get their feet wet with digital media, despite the uncertainty of its uses, especially to avoid those gate keeping measures and to establish brand identity in new venues. I don’t want a Scion (my dog, our daily muddy walks, and her serious furriness are better suited to something with a big washable hatchback. I’m so not Gen X or Y anyway…) but I’ve certainly been hyped at enough to know one when I see it. Scott Wensman claims that using emerging channels is more about developing an audience – and, most significantly, doing some solid consumer research to figure out what works. If emerging channels are going to evolve into the great advertising boon they’ve been hyped to be, advertisers are going to have to figure out how to sell product for people in lifestyle niches beyond teenagers, 20-somethings, and wannabes. While my 80 year old father might be enticed by a beautiful girl with a Red Bull LCD image on her chest, my 80 year old mother (who does all the shopping) would not. Show her an interactive video cookbook or a version of DDR with big band music, and you just might get her attention. Let her tell you what recipes to include or what songs she likes, and the technology gets sold along with the product.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Catching up on retail media news...

Whew! It's been a while since I've had the time to sit down and write a post for this blog. Between GlobalShop, the POPAI Digital Signage contest and the usual rigors of day-to-day operations I've come across way too many articles that were neat, but would have to "wait till later" for closer study. Here are some of the more interesting things I've been meaning to post about, but haven't had the chance to:

Jesse Bove, Associate Editor for ddi Magazine and bona fide Retail Design Diva asks "What makes shoppers tick?" in an examination of some of the newest trends and techniques in customer observation and behavior analysis. It's a good introduction to some of the cool/creepy technologies on the horizon that promise to turn your everyday trip to the grocery store into something from Minority Report -- and not necessarily in a good way.

Our friends over at Brand Experience Labs announced that they completed a deal with theater advertising company National CineMedia to install AudienceGame, their audience-controlled "'advergame' which is played by theatre audiences moving together to act
as a 'virtual joystick' to control the gaming elements on the big

POPAI announced the OMA and Digital Signage Award winners at GlobalShop last week, with top honors going to Creative Instore Solution/Red Bull, Idea Plant/20th Century Fox and Drissi Advertising/Paramount Pictures. For a list of digital signage winners, check out Digital Signage News.

Last but certainly not least, RetailBulletin has had several great articles the past three or four weeks, but my favorite was this article about supermarkets reacting to anti-packaging campaigns in an effort to satisfy consumer demand for green. No, not money, the other kind of green. You know, the one Al Gore invented.

So that's what's caught my eye these past few weeks. Thankfully, to keep from falling even further behind, we're bringing in some new blogging blood, so watch this space for more frequent articles, and definitely some that take a decidedly different spin from the normal pro-retail-media rah-rah-rah kind of stuff that I'm inclined towards :)

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

When high-tech packaging crosses the line into "retail media"

For most big CPG companies, package design almost assumes the status of "black art," and is relegated to a team of highly specialized designers and engineers who know how to get the most branded surface area out of a few the square inches that the typical product must occupy for it to be economical for retailers to carry. Consequently, we've seen some extremely creative packages crop up here and there that go the extra mile to really try and get the passing shopper to stop and take notice. For the most part, though, packages still tend to be pretty bland and generic-looking.... in fact I'm having a hard time wracking my brain to try and think of a good example of exceptional product design.

That aside, some folks are clearly thinking out-of-the-box about what they can do to make their products look more exciting and inviting on the shelf, and the New York Times just wrote a story about one such success, a new shaving gel called NXT.

While I don't know anything about the product itself, it's really the packaging that's the star, and in the already-crowded world of men's grooming products, it was ultimately this package that convinced Target to bother carrying the item (a new product from a small company, so this is no small feat!). How did they do it? The Times recounts this anecdote:

ABOUT a year ago, when Jamie Leventhal was trying to convince big chain stores to stock his new line of shaving gels for young men, a buyer for Target asked a crucial question: How much would he spend on advertising?

“I told him we would not spend a single dollar,” Mr. Leventhal said.

The buyer was stunned until Mr. Leventhal pulled a prototype out of his briefcase. The product, called NXT, is sold in an arresting triangular container that lights up from the bottom, illuminating air bubbles suspended in the clear gel. The plastic is tinted blue, and when the AAA batteries in its base are lighted, the whole thing looks like a miniature lava lamp or a tiny fishless aquarium.

The novelty of the light-up container worked, and NXT’s shaving gel — as well as its after-shave and face wash, similarly packaged — will hit the shelves at Target this month.
To call attention to themselves, the products, which are aimed at 18- to 24-year-old men, will glow on the shelves, inviting customers to pick them up. Every 15 seconds, a light-emitting diode (LED) in the bottom of the container flares on, stays lighted for a few seconds, then fades out.
The most interesting part of the whole story (to me) is that Leventhal identified advertising as a problem, and not a solution. Thus, rather than dump a whole bunch of money into advertising the product in the "usual" places (on TV, print, radio and the Internet, all of which require dozens to hundreds of individual ad buys for maximum coverage), he instead spent his money on getting his product noticed at the one place where it really counts -- at the store, where you can actually buy it. Further,
While most brands want to be placed at eye level or higher, Mr. Leventhal said the ideal shelf location for NXT is lower. “When you look down at them it’s more dramatic, so what I’m doing is going into retailers and saying, ‘Let’s take the less valuable real estate on the shelf and make it more valuable,’ ” he said.
So the package is even more appealing to retailers who vary their slotting fees based on shelf location (which is pretty much all of them these days).

I think NXT is probably going to do well thanks to their in-store strategy, even despite their lack of traditional advertising. However, now the bar has been raised. I'm pretty confident that Target isn't going to want a dozen different products blinking up and down each of their aisles, and for brands that are already spending a lot on advertising, the additional packaging costs for this type of gimmick may be prohibitive. But considering that hundreds of new brands are launched every year -- many from smaller companies that don't have the budget of a Unilever or a P&G -- I expect that we'll see a lot more creative packaging-as-promotion ideas in the future.

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