Marketers Struggle With Viewability IRL, Too

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A Pepperidge Farm endcap display in a grocery store.
A Pepperidge Farm endcap display in a grocery store.  Credit: Rabbit57i_Flicker

Procter & Gamble lit a brushfire in digital advertising this year when it said it was done paying for ads it couldn't prove were served on-screen. "The days of giving digital a pass are over," P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard said.

But another medium with a huge share of marketers' money has a "viewability" problem of its own: Corrugated paper displays in stores.

Promotional displays make it out of back rooms and onto display floors -- let's call it "in view" -- less than half the time that they're supposed to, recent studies have found.

Unviewable ads IRL are a huge cost. P&G alone spends around $1 billion annually just on corrugated displays around the world, people familiar with the matter said. Last month P&G pegged potential savings from eliminating waste from promotional materials of all sorts, which includes these displays, $500 million annually within five years. That compares to $1 billion in planned savings from media buying and $500 million from agency and production fees.

Quri, a retail intelligence company that pays 500,000 people to use their phones to take pictures of store displays, finds compliance rates around promotional plans average around 43%, said President-Chief Operating Officer David Gottlieb.

Another study last year by Shelfbucks, which sensors in stores and RFID chips into cardboard displays to track how they're deployed, found displays were on the sales floor at the start of scheduled promotions only 46% of the time. The study involved 21 brands owned by major marketers including P&G, Unilever, Mondelez and Kraft Heinz. Better compliance with promotion plans could improve sales lift by 30% to 45% Shelfbucks estimated.

But another firm that wasn't selling solutions, or expecting to find them a major factor, also found similar results. In a study for an undisclosed marketer in late 2015, Cadent Consulting found that its brands' shelf presence beyond their regular slots were visible 66% of the time, but the corrugated or other shopper-marketing materials intended to go with them were only present 43% of the time, said Managing Partner Don Stuart.

"Compliance had a bigger impact on ROI than any other factor," Stuart said.

Quri said it has national coverage now as well as a handful of clients, though it declined to name them. A former top P&G sales executive sits on the advisory board. Shelfbucks is in only 300 stores now but said it has signed a deal with a major national retailer that will add thousands more stores by year end, with plans to eventually cover 35,000 at the seven leading national retailers.

Cadent's bi-annual survey earlier this year found manufacturer plans for shopper-marketing spending leveling off for the first time ever, and spending plans declining for a broader array of retailer promotions. Concern about whether retailers, brokers or other third parties are really following through on plans may be part of what's driving those intentions, he said. But he also doesn't expect marketers can follow through on their cutbacks.

"It was a fairly dismal first quarter for most manufacturers and retailers," Stuart said. "As a result, I think there's going to be back-half catch-up. That means manufacturers are going to be spending aggressively, and retailers are going to be looking for that money."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article described Quri executive David Gottlieb as the company's CEO. He is president and chief operating officer.

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