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Putting the right ad in the right place to achieve maximum response has always been a challenge. Now, though, just as consumers have increased choice of products available to them, so advertisers have increased choice of ways to promote those products. Bernice Hurst reports.

Attracting customers means following them; knowing where they are so you can get your message in front of them. Joanne K Bradford of Microsoft, talking to the New York Times about blogs and social networking sites in October, explained: “consumers have voted. They said this is where I’m spending my time” so it’s one of the places advertisers need a presence. Knowing where they are also tells you who they are so you can see who is most likely to buy what. So far, this isn’t news. But changing demographic patterns have brought new media, opportunities and challenges.

Real worlds are colliding with virtual worlds. As reported on just-food last month, social networking sites are beginning to attract retailers and manufacturers targeting the people who spend their time online, actively looking for others with whom they can communicate.

Some traditional advertising media are still worth their weight in gold. British retailer Marks & Spencer has been winning accolades for the way its advertising campaign has improved the company’s fortunes in the past year. The focus on food is often cited as a significant factor, influencing the expansion of its Simply Food chain of convenience stores so much that the company now plans to triple the number of outlets as well as opening smaller branches on petrol station forecourts.

But the balance is shifting. Ads on websites mean customers come to the advertiser rather than vice versa. Rather than employing the expensive shotgun tactics required by more conventional media, the internet gives unlimited amounts of space for virtually nothing. A bit of design to add a mini-site to a corporate site and the deed is done. Signposts directing consumers to the site are incremental, placed on products, other advertisements and search engines.

Worldwide debates continue about the use of television to market to children. In some ways this is a defence against regulation, in others it is becoming academic as advertising spend is transferred to the internet. Where children are concerned, online promotion and marketing can be considered editorial and therefore not subject to the same regulations as advertisements.

Viral marketing, too, has increased the effectiveness of internet advertising. Whether spontaneous or achieved by recruiting people to spread the message and encourage others to get online, the 21st century version of gossiping over the garden fence is proving its value time and time again. Procter & Gamble and Unilever are just two multinational CPG companies following this route.

Another opportunity to target customers who have come to the advertiser takes place in-store. American supermarkets in particular are looking for ways to grab the attention of shoppers and increase their spend.

Wal-Mart and Premier Retail Networks introduced “the in-store media network of the future” in October. The new network, which will consist of over 100,000 eye level, flat panel plasma screens, is designed to deliver a targeted media experience to shoppers. End-cap display channels will demonstrate the benefits of the products carried on specific end-caps, according to a report on Planet Retail. Mike Hiatt, Director Internal Media Networks, explained that “the results of our extensive pilot research proves that targeting relevant programming to strategically important departments moves the needle on both brand awareness and sales while improving the shopper experience.”

In the UK, Tesco has handed over all advertising rights in its stores to Dunhumby, its partner marketing database company. This includes instore television and radio along with advertising on trolleys and on-floor stickers. 

Grabbing the attention of shoppers while they are shopping has its pitfalls but it does at least address an audience already committed to spending.