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The answer to the growing problem of achieving consumer cut through for retailers

Retail is the staple of the marketing industry – every agency must have a retail client on their books, and every retailer requires that agency to provide them with creativity that cuts through to the consumer. But with the volume of traffic growing, marketing messages struggle to gain much traction. Toto Ellis, head of strategy for TBWA\London offers his view on the problem.

In a world where agencies and brands try to consider the entire cultural canvas of paid/owned/earned/created media and craft the right idea to serve the business problem, I think it’s dangerous to get into binary decisions about TV versus digital, or indeed even to start with a channel. Some of the greatest modern ideas are just that – ideas. With this in mind, the question becomes more about the channels through which should we weave that idea. Some of the most awarded campaigns this year (both for creativity and effectiveness) had a culturally compelling idea, and then weaved it into whatever channel was right – be that train station platform screens, journalists or an online hub.

That said, retailers, having worked with lots of them, work differently to most other brands. They often have a rational role to communicate (‘Every little thing we do for you can help’, ‘try something new today in your weekly shop’), knowing that a killer deal can drive traffic or switch people (like offering Skyfall for £7 or cheap petrol if you spend x) and frankly their audience is often “most of the UK” or at the least a huge demographic slice of the population, going into millions of people. And it’s an enduring reality that TV will always be the best way to reach an extremely large number of people and announce one of these things – modern mediums don’t compete (I think I saw a stat that only one in 4,000 “virals” go viral).

Whilst people will continue to skip ads, we underestimate at our peril how many sleep-watch the breaks or indeed enjoy them. They key is to remember quite how hard you have to work to cut through when 90 per cent of advertising is forgotten and “fast forward” is a finger-click away. It’s a shame when broadcasters pay people to skip given it’s brands that keep them in business; but equally, the industry as a whole needs to make every entire ad breaks interesting. We should get to a place where no one wants to skip because the ads are just too compelling.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that retailers should continue to rely on old paradigms and unquestioned models alone. Someone once said to me “no retail marketing director got fired for placing an ad in The Sun”. In other words, the reason for putting the age-old tactical press ad in the paper was not because people were sure it was effective but because it was the safest thing to do culturally. We’ve tracked lots of tactical press ads and certain kinds work extremely well whilst some have staggeringly poor results. I’d love to see more retailers coming up with an amazing in-store activation idea, a piece of truly populist and engaging content or an immersive event, then seeing how traditional media might be the signpost to such a thing.

The key as ever is not to leap to one answer or the other. It will be about cleverly and carefully blending the best of iconic, emotive work that drives fame and populism for the brand, communications that give retailers an actual role in people’s lives, understanding what kinds of killer deals can drive traffic and then trying to orchestrate modern activation ideas full of heart, substance and a real reason to want to engage on a large scale.

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