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Thinking outside the box is a favorite ad world cliche. In that spirit, consider two boxes in particular: the television and the retail store.

Advertising Age reported recently that Polaroid Corp., among others, has taken to running full-motion TV commercials inside Kmart and Wal-Mart stores ("Marketers drawn to in-store entertainment," AA, April 28). No coupons, promotions or come-ons attached. Just pure, unadulterated image and attitude inside the store.


This raises an interesting question. If an image ad appears inside a store, is it still an image ad? According to conventional thinking, it's not. Once any type of marketing communication crosses the threshold from outside to inside a store it's not advertising anymore, it's promotion. It matters not that the communication is absolutely, positively, exactly the same.

What kind of box is that? Sounds pretty confining, I think. No wonder so many in the ad business dare only to venture outside their personal boxes by surfing the Net. Virtual reality is a lot more fun any day.

the TV networks are losing their ratings. The networks now account for just 50% of the viewing audience, and it's predicted this will sink to about 40% in 10 years.

One expert recently said that, based on this decline, unless you've got at least $20 million to spend on network TV you should just forget about it. His argument is that you need to target the heavy users and you can't do this effectively with network commercials unless you're a megabrand.


I don't imagine that the advertising community is going to take very kindly to this point of view. For one thing, it suggests reaching the highest-potential customers as close to their purchasing decision as possible. Where would that be? Could it possibly be . . . in the store?

This is not to argue that advertisers should pull their image ads off one box and put them into another. But it does suggest that advertisers and their agencies ought to take an outside-the-box look at their advertising strategies in an environment that's been smashed to smithereens in terms of consumers, the media they use and the lifestyles they lead.

One good place to start would be to throw out the dogma that says any marketing strategy that involves retail location is, by definition, promotion. Procter & Gamble Co., in particular, is using what it calls co-equity ads that integrate brand and retailer images without any call-to-action (i.e. promotion) whatsoever. What's right for P&G is not necessarily right for the rest of the world, but they get points for making effective use of both boxes.


The thing that really sells it is a new piece of research released by Cannondale Associates that says 94% of marketers will increase account-specific marketing within the next five years. Even more significant, 79% said that consumer and trade budgets should be integrated.

Take all that together and we have a situation where account-specific marketing isn't just about promotion anymore. It's about image advertising too. Building a brand's image, consequently, isn't just about targeting consumers via the shows they watch, but also via the stores they shop.

Is that outside the box? At the very least it trades in the old box for a newer, bigger one. And it's a box where, for good or ill, every brand image now fights for survival.

Mr. Taylor is VP of Trade Dimensions, Stamford, Conn., a retail database company.

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