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CHICAGO-When Wal-Mart talks, the point-of-purchase industry listens.

A session featuring Wal-Mart Stores Vice Chairman-Chief Operating Officer Donald Soderquist drew more than 500, the largest crowd of any seminar at last week's Point-of-Purchase Advertising Institute's Marketplace '94 here.

That interest illustrates the increasing influence and importance retailers have over both brand marketers and suppliers of the $15 billion POP industry.

More than 4,300 brand marketers, suppliers and retailers-a 57% increase from last year-gathered at the giant showcase of in-store advertising and media.

Mr. Soderquist spoke about the Wal-Mart retail environment, emphasizing the importance of price. He likened POP displays to signs "drawing consumers off the interstate" to buy products.

"Retailers drive the creativity of in-store advertising," said Richard Blatt, executive director of POPAI. Brand marketers and suppliers more than ever need to work together with the retailers to meet stores' requirements, he said.

In the past, retailers simply represented space that brand marketers would use to target consumers with in-store advertising. The marketers would create in-store advertising and ship it to stores.

As retailers like Wal-Mart and Kmart Corp. become more sophisticated and develop a better understanding of consumer needs, they are putting requirements and restrictions on in-store advertising, Mr. Blatt said.

Because of this, brand marketers have to sell their in-store programs to retailers and work with suppliers to meet store criteria.

Wal-Mart this year turned to Chesebrough-Pond's to produce a skincare products display specifically for its stores.

With the help of Thomson-Leeds Co., New York, Pond's designed a backlighted plastic display unit to fit directly into Wal-Mart shelving.

Thomson-Leeds President Doug-las Leeds said if brand marketers can get their product into top retailers, they will be guaranteed success. "The brand marketer must help the retailer differentiate and make the product stand out," he said.

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