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Hershey Uses Tech To Get Consumers Down Grocery Aisle

Smiles Earn Consumers Samples And Chocolate Maker Sales

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"People are really unreliable when it comes to what they like or don't like," said Rana el Kaliouby, chief science and strategy officer for Affectiva at Ad Age's Small Agency Conference in Boston. But luckily, it has a solution for that.

Affectiva's technology reads and analyzes human emotion from a single expression. The obvious use is for market research, but Hershey Co. had a different idea. The confectionary giant, working with tech firm Wild Blue Technologies, wanted to use the technology to drive consumers down the grocery aisle. The company invited consumers to walk to the middle of the aisle, where they would find an Affectiva-powered kiosk prompting them to smile into the machine for a free sample.

"One point of conversion down the aisle is $100 million," said Frank Jimenez, senior director, insights-driven performance and retail evolution at Hershey.

"We talk to people when they're done shopping and it's not real time," he said. So the question becomes "How do you translate that three hours later in a boring conference room? We're trying to translate that at retail and leveraging technology to do that."

The kiosk took up precious retail space, but retailers loved it because it drove foot traffic and loyalty, and for a brand like Hershey, giving up space was worth it if it meant means getting people down the aisle and driving just one potential sale, said Mr. Jimenez. "If I can get more impressions at retail that's extremely valuable for us, expecially in a category that [benefits from] unplanned purchases. This experience allows us to do that. Retailers even offered to give us more space because of the idea."

Wild Blue Technologies, which worked with Hershey on the push, validated the effort by asking people to tell them if they'd come back and use the "smile" machine and technology again. "We're talking about validating qualitative [behavior] and using tech for that," said Steve McLean, president of Wild Blue Technologies. "They were giving us realtime feedback. They said, yes I'd make those 20 paces for this treat."

The technology has other applications that companies like Hershey may explore at some point. Kellogg, for example, used it to test reactions to three different versions of an ad, said Affectiva's Ms. el Kaliouby. One did really well, but in the second people were kind of offended by the joke, she said. The company ended up spending a lot more money behind a different version of the ad.