Shelf Talkers: Package patter hits grocery aisles

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Have your package literally shout out to consumers as they walk by the shelf? It's been only a dream, until now. ConAgra Foods this July will take its ad icon-the Parkay Talking Tub, out of commission since 1999-live to dairy-case shelves. As shoppers pass by, the margarine tub will call out to would-be buyers with the long-used brand message that "the label says Parkay, the flavor says butter." Is this the beginning of a much noisier grocery-shopping experience?

Don Pettit, president-CEO of brand-identity firm Sterling Group, New York, doesn't necessarily think so. In the mid-`90s, when the voice technology was first introduced, he said, a lot of in-store displays, especially in the cosmetic business, employed it and, "the risk became very clear: they can be very annoying for people standing in the aisle. It is an invasion of a shopper's space [unlike] a passive graphic display where you can have private interaction through a touch screen."

But that's just why this new tool, if it works, "will be a harbinger of things to come," according to Jon Kramer, CEO of Grey Global Group's J. Brown/LMC. "The Parkay margarine example is in-store theater, it's a disrupter, and the more intrusive you can be, the better off you are," he said. "The opportunity to have your brand message articulated in the store is not only unique, but potentially breakthrough," Mr. Kramer said. And breaking through in stores is critical, as research shows that 70% of brand decisions are made at the shelf and 60% of category decisions are made in the store, he said.

expense is relative

Voice- or motion-activated "chips are expensive...but compared to a commercial and the [gross rating points] you get with a prime-time or daytime media buy, it isn't that expensive," Mr. Kramer said.

The Talking Tub touts the butter-flavor tagline and an instant-win game that features similar voice chips inside 15,000 actual packages. It will be attached to dairy-case shelves in 10,000 stores, reaching roughly 500 million consumers from July 15 through Aug. 11, said Rich Scalise, president chief operating officer of ConAgra Dairy Foods Group.

The on-shelf Talking Tub ties in with new creative from Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide ( QwikFIND aan57g) in June as part of a plan "to make sure consumers get the message all the way down to point of purchase," Mr. Scalise said.

If all goes well, ConAgra promotion agency Pinnacle Promotion Group will launch a new Talking Tub in stores next year, and may add other clients to the list of talking packages. "There is lots of opportunity to do the same for other brands [whose packaging] talks on TV," said Tony Valtos, account director, Pinnacle.

Parkay sales fell 0.4% to $110.9 million in supermarkets for the 52 weeks ended April 21, according to Information Resources Inc. The brand ranks fourth behind Unilever Bestfoods' $632 million I Can't Believe It's Not Butter brand, which rose 3.1% for the same period; its Shedd's Spread Country Crock, up 3.1% to $180.5 million; and private-label brands, up 10% to $112.9 million.

Screaming, albeit in-package, is a tactic has beenused promotionally by Kraft Foods' Post cereal brands. An upcoming promotion from Nestle's kid-targeted Willy Wonka Candy Factory brand will use the technology to alert consumer if they have won a family amusement park trip. The winning package will yell "Wonkaaaaa!"

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