Fearful of disrupting an effective platform for its retail brand, Miller said the chain remains reluctant to explore vendor advertising over its audio networks. Instead, it is using properties like a full-color monthly recipe magazine and signage in stores to bring vendor marketing to shoppers.
Traditionally, music was a revenue-neutral undertaking at Ahold Delhaize’s Stop & Shop, with modest ad proceeds offsetting the cost of the broadcast. But the chain has gotten more sophisticated about how it approaches music, and the medium is now a small moneymaker after aligning in late 2020 with DMI, a provider founded by a former musician, said Janine Mudge, director of marketing operations for the 400-store Northeast supermarket. The chain regularly tests new playlists based on customer data and adjusts its sound based on dayparts and other factors it draws from loyalty data. Ads have been successful, particularly in raising customer awareness of the store’s private brands, which generally come with better margins, Mudge said.
When the music, the messaging, and the timing are right, in-store audio can be extremely effective, its proponents say. But in-store audio sits in an awkward position in the media landscape, often viewed as a so-called “tweener.”
“I think we are a tweener because we may be viewed a little like a media product, and a little bit like a shopper marketing product, and a little like a digital product,” Gary Seem, president and co-founder of InStore Audio Network, acknowledged. “I’m not sure these are good ways to evaluate our business because the media space is no longer a TV-dominated world. The place-based out-of-home space is becoming so important and solutions like InStore Audio Network don’t quite fit into traditional media segments.”
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Accelerating the programmatic marketplace for in-store audio requires dismantling silos and legacy practices, said Michael Provenzano, CEO of Vistar Media, a supply-side programmatic software company specializing in out-of-home. “Brands should be challenging retailers and say, ‘I need you to operate like a full-on, highly technical publisher,’” Provenzano said.
Some of these legacy practices include ads in the space tied specifically to shopper marketing agencies making direct buys. That has caused some confusion and hesitancy among brands, said Dentsu’s Porter, saying some may be wary of the complexity of adding another channel.
“Let’s say I’m a shampoo brand that wants to be in 25 markets and 37 cities in those markets, and I want to be in the retail space,” Porter said. “I think these four markets could do out-of-home audio, and in eight markets I’ll do digital screens by the register, and in this market, it’s refrigerator doors. Put that all together as a plan and the client will look at that and say, ‘Boy, that’s a lot of different things.’ But if you buy a billboard by the side of the road you can get that in any market.”