Your shopper marketing is failing you (column)

Marketing guru Tony Chapman offers three steps to making it work

Shopper marketing was going to be CPG’s panacea for reviving sluggish sales and profits. The math was indisputable – win at retail where 70% of brand selections are made in store, and 68% are unplanned.

What used to be called “sales promotion” and was more often than not an afterthought for marketers reinvented itself as Shopper Marketing, and became one of the few growth areas in organizations and the agencies that serviced them. Overnight we saw dedicated customer and shopper marketing departments being built to bridge the great divide between marketing and sales silos and new “shopper marketing” agencies being created that focused exclusively on retail, each promoting their “store back” or “moment of truth” processes.

We had some winners. My former agency Capital C won award after award for platforms like Kraft’s “Hockeyville,” Pepsi’s “Bring Home the Stanley Cup,” Dove’s “Sleep Over for Self Esteem,” and Becel’s “Love Your Heart” that leveraged insights, ideas and the retail channel to build both brand equity and volume.

However, if I were to be honest I would have to say they were the exception and not the rule.

More often than not, shopper marketing has failed organizations because they sacrificed and often slaughtered their brand equity in exchange for short-term volume gains. Too much supply and not enough demand made price, not marketing, the primary lubricant for moving the supply chain, and this addiction created a highly promiscuous consumer whose loyalty is for the deal of the day – some combination of price and prize.

The reality is that CPG organizations that used to be consumer driven have become retail and price driven. My bet is that most CPG executives would agree with the following:

Price is becoming your primary tiebreaker
More and more of your volume each year is being sold through on deal.

Even my super premium brands are under attack
The Tides, Coca-Colas, Heinzes and Doves are being caught in the dangerous middle ground – they are under attack by aggressive pricing by their competitors, superb private label offerings and the emergence of new artisan and craft brands.

My margins are flattening
Inflation exists in your supply chain and yet you are having difficulty passing these increased costs onto the retailer and the consumer. As categories commoditize your pricing, it’s becoming increasingly inelastic, resulting in tighter margins. Most of the cost saving initiatives that you have implemented in the past to fund aggressive pricing have been realized.

“Mass” has shifted to “My”
Consumers have becoming increasingly disengaged with mass brands and one-size-fits-all messaging. This is the case across every channel including retail. Their attention has shifted to organic, artisan, and HMR products.

Here are three things that CPG and retailers can do to reverse this slide.


Retail is extremely important to CPG for obvious reasons; this is the place where the consumer makes his or her purchase. It is also the channel where you have no authority and little influence. You are completely dependent on a bricks or clicks retailer who views most of your brands as commodities, who feels entitled to grabbing more of your trade dollars, and sees aggressive pricing as their primary tactic for driving their traffic or basket. Therefore begin with the consumer not the channel.


Insights are the lifeblood of marketing. With the right insight you can stop telling your story and instead become part of the consumer’s story. You can be an enabler of their lives and livelihoods, versus simply a provider of functional benefits.

A true insight is consumer driven, not channel focused.  It is what anchors the big idea and one that can engage the consumer across any channel – earned, paid, shared or retail.

Price is not an insight. It is a bribe easily matched by your competitors. A race to zero without an airbag.

Here are some examples of insights and ideas that engaged the consumer across the entire ecosystem and drove meaningful volume.

Moms love to set the stage where their children eagerly await fantasy characters that bring gifts – Santa, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. The problem is when there is no ritual or pattern and they have to answer tough questions from their four year old.

Every kid who celebrates Christmas knows where Santa lives, when he arrives, how he gets to and into their house. The Easter Bunny was a very different story. Moms would get busted by their children on Easter Sunday for their lack of consistency. Johnny would ask, “Where does the Easter Bunny live?  How come Sally got a treasure map and I didn’t?  Why are they looking for eggs outside when mine were hidden inside and how did he get in?” The insight was lots of anxiety for moms who wanted to keep their kids believers as long as possible and with it came a big idea to create “The Tale of the Easter Bunny” and where he lived – The Land of Cadbury.

• The Land of Cadbury told the story of the Easter Bunny in a 30-minute animated television special, a storybook and in store through display, and the creation of a premium line of Easter products. Prior to that category was a mess with the company that made the biggest and cheapest Easter Bunny winning the game. We came in with a platform for selling profitable seasonal products that moms loved to buy. Twenty-five years ago, we created this for Canada, today a simple Google Search will show that our insight and our “The Tale of the Great Bunny” idea are still going strong in countries like South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

• “Off! Hours” was a platform based on the insight that moms wanted to see their children playing outdoors during the 100 days of summer, not locked inside on their game console or social media sites. Off! prevented their children from being bitten, but more importantly it enabled the makers, SC Johnson, to bring an idea to the trade that gave them an opportunity to sell an entire line of seasonal products.

• Dove’s “Sleep Over for Self Esteem” was built on the insight that moms had difficulty talking to their children about false beauty stereotypes. We created a weekend of content on television that addressed self esteem, and had moms and their daughters stage their own sleep over dressed in Dove PJ’s that they got in store by buying three Dove products.

• Bridezilla, where the bride cuts off her hair minutes before her wedding, was one of the most successful viral programs of its day. It cost us $3,000 to produce, was downloaded millions upon millions of times and ended up being featured on Jay Leno, Oprah and thousands of other mainstream media properties.  (Yes, thousands.)  It worked because it was based on the insight of how much women hate bad hair days and there couldn’t be a worst time to “wig out” than on your wedding day. Sunsilk was the brand that could stop wig outs and we turned this into a two week media event on a specialty channel that included casting and sampling at a major retailer where we curated other people’s wig out stories.


There are too few Kraft Hockeyvilles, which we created over 12 years ago, or Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl — programs that get bigger and better every year through their ability to build equity by engaging the consumer through earned, paid and shared media, and to drive volume through themed displays that motivated in store purchase.

The reason why is primarily fatigue. Marketers want to invent the next big thing, or sales that demand something shiny and new, or the retailer wants an exclusive program.

Fatigue is lost opportunity. If you have uncovered a meaningful insight and in turn created a big idea, then your goal isn’t invention but reinvention – to make it bigger and better every year and in doing so get your retailer motivated to lap that volume every year.

We created Pepsi’s “Bring Home the Stanley Cup” when Pepsi secured the NHL rights.  It leveraged hockey and the magic of a hockey champion bringing the Stanley Cup home to a consumer’s house to watch the game. The insight however wasn’t based on hockey. It was based on gatherings, and hockey is the perfect magnet to create that occasion.  With our insight and idea, we could feed PR and social media by talking about the rituals that go into staging the perfect game night.

“Bring Home the Stanley Cup” was a major success in year one, but by the third year it had become lost in translation, focusing instead on a reward for amateur hockey teams versus harnessing and growing the potential of the gathering insight.

So the next time you embark on a shopper-first marketing initiative, ask yourself at what price given this is a channel consumed by price. “Store back” and “final moment of truth” are important, but only if they are an expression of an insight that matters and an idea that engages across the entire ecosystem.

Your brand, equity, profitability and share price depend upon it.

Tony Chapman is the founder of Tony Chapman Reactions. His new keynote is titled From Mass to My. When he isn’t speaking he offers a “fresh pair of eyes” for marketers and their agencies, and is a frequent contributor to the conversation in mainstream media.  Reach him @TonyChapman or [email protected]

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