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Blog Series
05/04/2021

‘Shop Now,’ Cry Later

Peter Breen
Editor-in-Chief
Peter Breen profile picture

As I checked the hockey scores on NHL.com the other night, I ran into an ad for my favorite chocolate candy brand. “Shop now,” it invited me, and when I took the click-bait it brought me to a landing page on the brand’s website. There, I was given the choice of four retailers from which to buy something – although through the magic of real-time inventory tracking I learned that one of them was out of stock.

Soon after, I rabbit-holed my way to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website (to find something related to Buffalo Bills’ free agent opportunities, I think) and encountered a “Save Now at Costco” ad for a 48-count box of a far healthier snacking option, granola bars.

I didn’t pursue either purchase (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I did hit the kitchen soon after to see what we had in the house). I have fully embraced online grocery shopping, and am even trying to get my 89-year-old mother to do the same, but I’m not yet at the point where snack shopping is a stand-alone digital “impulse” occasion.

The Institute’s editors have come across a variety of “shoppable media” campaigns in recent weeks, as you’ll see in this month’s Activation Gallery. Digital technology has made it possible for every online branding moment to be a targeted call to action, complete with direct links to relevant points of purchase. “All the world’s a stage” is still a relevant quote (as TikTok surely illustrates), but for marketers, “All the world’s a store” seems to be true as well.

If legitimate, that fact offers many opportunities for marketers but some potential pitfalls as well. The increasing volume of “Shop Now” ads being deployed has me flashing back about four years, when remarketing was raging and I couldn’t make a work-related visit to a business software provider’s website without being stalked (and it really felt that way) with related ads for days wherever I went online.

Those software providers had no way of knowing that I wasn’t really a potential customer (just an editor looking for information). But they should have considered the very strong likelihood that, even if I were, I had no interest in considering their product at night as I checked sports scores. CPGs now have to consider that, too.

So should retailers, of course. In the intensifying gold-rush race to develop off-platform opportunities for their retail media networks, they need to remember what makes their assets such ideal advertising vehicles in the first place: proximity to shoppers in relevant situations, the consumer “in shopper mode” rather than simply a click or two away from buying. Just because consumers can shop at any time doesn’t mean they’ll want to.

One of my favorite moments during the Retail Media Forum the Institute hosted in March came when Spencer Baird of Inmar Intelligence advised retailers to stop planning media networks and start building marketing networks. The difference? The former involves “Monetizing [the audience] hoping you meet shopper needs” vs. “Meeting needs trusting that you’ll sell a lot more,” Baird explained.

From the consumer perspective, that’s the difference between bothering me while I’m looking up hockey scores and actually reaching me when I want to buy some snacks. And for marketers, it’s probably the difference between failure and success.

More Blog Posts In This Series

  • History in the Remaking

    I remember my path to purchase history fairly well, so I don’t have to worry about repeating it. But, because I remember, I do have to worry about being the eternally grumpy cynic in the room, the one trying hard not to rain on the parade of all the optimistic folks talking excitedly about the newest industry game-changer.
  • Empowered Women Empower Women

    2020 was a strange year: frightening, chaotic and full of disruption, both professionally and personally. At times, just making it through the day felt like a tremendous victory. Yet the industry did more than just make it through.
  • Flattening the Funnel

    I am writing this Editor’s Note just after concluding the all-new, all-virtual Path to Purchase Digital Expo. When you participate in a three-day marketing conference as both a speaker and attendee and you wear sweatpants the entire time (even when dressed in formal attire from the waist up), your thoughts can tend toward the surreal.
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