Friday, April 3, 2009

Part II: "Banner Blindness" to In-Store Video

Does “banner blindness” extend to other visual displays of advertising? It can...and does, when the timing of the encounter is not controlled by the consumer.

In my first posting, I suggested that because computer displays (and, more to the point, web pages) are flat, there might not be much difference between “banner blindness” on the web and the way consumers look at print ads in newspapers or magazines (or don’t).

But what if that screen was much larger...and sitting in the retail environment? What if, instead of holding a tiny banner ad, the entire expanse of that screen was devoted to bold, colorful point-of-sale marketing messages? Or what if the screen was showing private channel video programs, thoughtfully brought to me by the store I’m in at that moment?

Consumers have already spoken. It’s just more clutter. More noise. Something else to avoid.

Reports indicate that most consumers claim in-store digital signage and TV screens have little impact on their purchases and, in fact, they say that it tends to blend into the background. That’s “filtering” in action. What they’re describing is the video version of “banner blindness” or reading around the ads.

Yet, I can vividly remember the moment about 5-6 years ago when an associate regaled a potential client with predictions that the day was not far off when every end-cap in every store would have a video display, updated overnight with fresh new graphics and images.

My immediate mental image of that scenario, based on what I had witnessed every time I was in a retail environment, was of hundreds of shoppers disregarding every one of those displays. Their minds were someplace else. Or they were deep in conversation with someone. But they were “filtering”…because it was not the right time to impose on them with an(other) intrusive message.

The fact that, 5-6 years later, aisle end-caps have still not been converted en masse to video displays means we can probably conclude that retailers chose to stick with the simpler, cheaper (and no doubt more effective) “analog” version.

Have you ever walked through a Wal-Mart (Come on, we’re friends here…and no one else is looking. You can admit you’ve gone to Wal-Mart.) and noticed how many consumers actually look up at the overhead monitors of the Wal-Mart TV Network. I can pretty well assure you that if you count them all with one hand, you won’t run out of fingers during your visit.

Wal-Mart and its vendors would say (and have said in press releases) that this $10 million project has produced results.

Says Kim Miller, vice president of marketing at Kellogg, “advertising at the point-of-sale will become increasingly important to win the market. The results we’ve seen during tests of the new Wal-Mart Smart Network have been impressive.”

“We’ve built a network tailored to the way consumers shop our stores--delivering helpful, custom, [sic] content closest to the point of decision--that helps them shop smarter,” says Stephen Quinn, CMO, Wal-Mart Stores, U.S. “We will be analyzing point-of-sale data on an ongoing basis to deliver a shopper-centric communications platform.”

“Shopper-centric.” Eek. But I digress.

Now, I don't have the statistics. All I know is what I see in the stores. Anecdotal and subjective, to be sure, but what I see is (to borrow a phrase from auto journalist Peter DeLorenzo) “a heaping bowl of Not Good.”

Heck, what I see these days is a lot of shoppers with their noses either in their own list or the store’s circular. They’re trying to cut costs. They’re looking for bargains. The spontaneous purchase of a carpet shampooer just doesn’t seem likely to happen.

Everything in these initial posts is simply meant to underscore the incredible challenge that advertising copywriters and designers face in trying to craft a message that people will even notice, much less permit some level of engagement. As Steve Cosmopulos, Creative Director at what was then Arnold & Company in Boston, told his teams, “Consumers are not out there just waiting to read your ad or watch your commercial. They have plenty of other things to do.”

The issue, then, is timing. When — and under what circumstances — is the consumer most receptive to your advertising message? That's next time.

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