Grocery store chains have moved their marketing efforts online, demonstrating they have plenty more to offer than a special on top round.
Some might argue that it's difficult to be creative in developing online ad campaigns when you're constantly required to deliver the same old message. For grocery chains, that message is typically one of fair prices, selection, and convenience. And yet, the marketers behind these brands are routinely able to produce marketing and advertising initiatives that promote these themes in an innovative way -- particularly on the Web.
Consumer exposure to grocery advertising is no longer limited to in-store flyers and newspaper ads. Marketing efforts have been moved online where brand sites have become robust content portals and grocery chains have plenty more to offer than a special on top round. And with good reason; an August study from comScore, Inc. and dunnhumbyUSA -- a consulting company specializing in retail sales -- found that online advertising is as effective at increasing retail sales and purchase intent as TV. According to the survey, Internet ads raise retail sales of CPG products by 9 percent, compared to an average lift of 8 percent for TV advertising. It's a worthwhile incentive for grocery chains, with their endless shelves of CPG goods, to invest in an online media strategy.
A customer's digital interaction with a grocery brand now plays out in a combination of brand and local stores sites, e-mail marketing, mobile marketing, and banner campaigns. Albertsons has rich media e-newsletters and online recipes that feature seasonal ingredients. Wegmans has an entire site section dedicated to videos that offer meal and lifestyle ideas based on such themes as "cooking with kids" and "eat well live well." Safeway define) has a blog about "family, food, value, and fun" where shoppers can read tips for fall cleaning, eating nuts as a healthy snack, and accessing the latest supermarket coupons through Facebook.
Safeway-owned chains Tom Thumb and Randall's, along with Remke Markets and Kroger, all introduced, tested, or expanded their mobile marketing communications in 2009, which included store coupons and loyalty specials. Banners are also a popular choice for promoting stores' weekly circulars, with many regional chains like Meijer and Jewel-Osco advertising their local sales on food-oriented sites like Cooks.com and Cooking.com. These banners are generally simple, with a strong call to action, and link to weekly ad locator microsites that allow shoppers to view specials by location. Meijer takes the promotion a step further by preceding its local online flyers with a great Flash-based house ad that further promotes its more enticing specials.
Media buys made by supermarket brands are often a treat to come across, particularly when they employ video and are designed as much to entertain as to inform. Though you won't see it alongside American grocery ads, Swedish grocery chain ICA's sliding display ad illustrates how the store has reduced prices on "several items." By dragging a button across the banner, the user discovers that those items are, in fact, virtually limitless -- all while a seemingly straight-laced spokesperson delivers a humorous tour of ICA's great deals.
Supermarkets are also proving that there are ways to go beyond the marketing messages inherent to the grocery retail industry. Last year, Kroger devised a savvy way to boost sales with its "brown bag" ad campaign, which included banner ads on About.com, AllRecipes.com, FoodNetwork.com, and MyRecipes.com. The ads emphasized the benefits of bringing a brown bag lunch to work, thus providing Kroger with an outlet for promoting individual products sold in its stores as well as highlighting its ability to help customers save money. Alternatively, Whole Foods successfully emphasized its wide selection of organic products by shirking a more traditional prize and giving its millionth follower on Twitter...drum roll, please...a million grains of quinoa.
These supermarket giants are effectively demonstrating that the tired ad messages you're obliged to deliver -- whether it's low prices or some other characteristic of your product -- needn't hold you back. Their narrow margins might be just the impetus you need to expand your campaign vision and produce digital marketing and advertising initiatives as innovative as those born of the grocery aisle.
Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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