Optimising Shopper Media Investment in Ireland: A New Year’s Resolution

By Eoghan Phelan, Joint MD of the Visualise Group.

As we enter both a new year and a new decade, social media is swarmed with both reflections on the past decade and New Year’s resolutions, so this seemed like an opportune time to declare my own resolution for the Irish shopper media industry in 2020. At The Visualise Group, this is an industry which we have been involved in for over a decade, initially through our own shopper media formats which are now operated by our VMedia division and more recently through the work we are doing in our V360° division, where we help our clients develop and execute campaigns that run across a wider range of shopper media formats.

I have long believed that shopper media formats are among the most effective formats in the media landscape and my resolution for the year ahead is to improve the measurement and evaluation of Irish shopper media activity, in order to optimise investment in this sector. This is a task which, much like shopper media activity itself, is complex and involves a variety of stakeholders, but with the right expertise and collaboration can be simplified and if done effectively will benefit all stakeholders.

ARE WE MEASURING WHAT MATTERS?

The ultimate goal of all media campaigns is to grow the sales of the products advertised and yet, over one hundred years since John Wanamaker reportedly said “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”, brands are still taking a lot of educated guesses when it comes to allocating spend on shopper media formats. Given their proximity to the point of purchase and, by extension, their primary objective of driving sales in an identified store, shopper media formats should arguably be among the most measurable of media formats. As things currently stand, however, the ability to compare the effectiveness of the range of different options across different retail outlets is practically non-existent.

Of course, there are some measures in place which tell us different things and can guide investment in shopper media. Some proximity retail media formats used to target shoppers are covered by the Outdoor Media Association’s JNOR research, which provides metrics such as audience reach, frequency and visibility adjusted contact, and enables advertisers to evaluate formats on a cost per thousand basis. While this information is certainly valuable and, in the absence of other data, seems a sensible way to allocate budget there are issues with relying solely on it. JNOR has been developed for the entire Out of Home advertising sector and provides a robust basis for allocating wider OOH spend. However, only certain proximity retail media formats such as retail 6-sheets are covered by JNOR, meaning many of the new and innovative shopper media formats launched by media owners in recent years, and those formats operated by retailers themselves, cannot be compared against these traditional formats on these metrics.

Secondly, while metrics such as reach and CPM are certainly important, they are not an indicator of sales effectiveness, and the closer you get to the point of purchase, the more weighting needs to be given to this. Relying on metrics such as reach and CPM may not lead to the most effective formats, in terms of sales increase or ROI, being chosen. Using a crude example to illustrate the point, is it wiser to spend a €20K budget on a format that covers 100 stores reaching 1 million shoppers per cycle and increases sales by €20K or to spend it on a format that only covers 75 stores, reaching 750,000 shoppers but increases sales by €40K? The increased influence of media audits in recent years has also intensified the need to justify spend based on cost discounts but these audits are built on a fundamentally flawed rationale that lower cost = better value,  with discounts achieved mattering most, and scant regard for how a format actually performs.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

A big change in the Irish shopper media landscape in the past decade has been the evolution of retailers’ own internally managed offerings, with an increased number of opportunities available to brands through retailer media centres. Tesco, through dunnhumby media, and SuperValu have been to the fore in presenting a suite of potential media opportunities to brands, with other retailers following suit. The development of these opportunities has led to the type of media campaign evaluations that had been so sorely lacking, with both dunnhumby and SuperValu offering detailed campaign evaluations, providing valuable information on sales and customer impact.

For the most part, third-party media owners have had to rely on obtaining EPOS data from retailers on an ad-hoc basis to prove the sales effectiveness of their formats. Last year, however, our VMedia division partnered with both dunnhumby and SuperValu to make their campaign evaluations available to advertisers who book campaigns on the POPAd trolley and basket formats.  In doing so, we have willingly opened up the formats to scrutiny on a campaign by campaign basis. While we have seen over a number of years the sales impact that advertising on the formats can have we are also fully aware that given all the variables, such as competitor activity, which are outside of the control of either the formats or the advertised brand, that some campaigns may not perform as well as we hoped they would. It is only by constantly evaluating campaigns, however, that we can take learnings which will help optimise future campaigns such as the impact of artwork, call to action used, presence of price offer etc., and whether this varies by category.

We recognise, as a company, however, that more can still be done to help advertisers in Ireland optimise their shopper media spend. For example, while we may be able to demonstrate that our VMedia formats work to grow sales, what we can’t demonstrate is whether they are more effective than other formats, and nor can any other media owner counter this.  Also, even when comparing one format that is available for evaluation from different retailers, there will always be differences in evaluation methodologies used by different retailers, making it difficult to compare like with like and ascertain where you are getting better return on investment.

CUTTING THROUGH THE LINE

The shopper media landscape is a complex landscape that crosses both ATL & BTL budgets (and often teams), with some formats run by third-party media owners, some by retailer media centres and others still by category buyers, even in the same retailer. As this landscape has evolved this has meant that there are significant differences in how different formats are planned, bought and evaluated, even though they all have the same primary aim of increasing sales of a brand’s products in the store they are located in, or near. As an industry it is important, therefore, that we cut through the line and evaluate the performance of different formats, across different retailers, by similar metrics in order to better understand the effectiveness of these formats, guide better planning and optimise shopper media investment. Why shouldn’t we be able to compare the sales uplift and ROI achieved by, for example, a trolley ad versus an aisle fin or even a proximity 6-sheet versus a branded aisle-end or a secondary display? We should, and we can, irrespective of where the invisible line is drawn.

THE WAY FORWARD……

As already mentioned, I believe that shopper media is among the most effective media a brand can invest in and if we have learned anything from the increased investment in digital media in the last decade it’s that the better we can measure and evaluate activity within a media sector, the greater likelihood there is of that sector receiving a larger share of advertising spend. While shopper media has also seen increased investment throughout the 2010s, I believe that it is still under-invested in, and with improved measurement and evaluation of activity this investment will increase, to the benefit of all stakeholders.

While this is my New Year’s resolution, at V360° we have already begun work on developing a new solution to enable brands to consistently evaluate the performance of not only campaigns on VMedia formats, but on a variety of shopper media formats, across different retailers, in an independent, transparent and standardised manner. If you are interested in optimising shopper media investment for your brand, just get in touch and let’s start the conversation.