Retail Media: it’s time to think bigger picture

Retail Media: it’s time to think bigger picture

Retail media has come a long way over the pandemic, and brands and advertisers should think carefully about integrating it into plans going forward.

Back in the turbulent summer of 2020, I penned an article for The Media Leader advocating that there hadn’t been a more poignant time for brands to capitalise on the new dawn of retail media.

With lockdowns leaving non-essential physical retail shuttered and customers overwhelmingly turning to digital channels, retail media became the 21st century gold rush as retailers accelerated efforts to monetise channels and brands shifted budgets at pace to target this burgeoning audience.

Of course, retail media wasn’t a new concept but the pandemic accelerated the use case for many advertisers who hadn’t yet dipped their toe into the retail media waters.

As much as it was exciting to work amongst this disruptive shift, in hindsight it was very much ground-zero of what would grow to become a juggernaut.

The retail media landscape was nascent by digital media standards in 2020, with inconsistent and ill-defined measurement, unproven inventory and a lack of sophisticated buying and targeting capability, much inventory still acquired on a tenancy basis and wrapped up in unclear pre-existing annual funding commitments.

Winding forward to 2022, it is fair to say that the growth in this space certainly hasn’t yielded and things have changed for the better.

If anything, the macroeconomic and supply chain challenges we see playing out in the market may only accelerate this further, as brands aim to allure consumers feeling the cost-of-living pinch, away from private label and competitor products.

I smile when I see management consultancies wheel out statement slides at trade conferences in 2022, predicting that retail media is going to be big. Welcome to the party, you’re a little late.

The question is: what is next? What’s changing? How is retail media evolving?

The landscape continues to move at pace

The sophistication of retail media platforms, their targeting capability and the inventory available within is accelerating wildly.

Publicis’ acquisition of CitrusAd last year and the most recent news out of the Groupe’s annual VivaTech event this month, announcing the merging of CitrusAd’s on-retailer media inventory with Epsilon’s off-site media capability and cookie-alternative Core ID measurement solution all seamlessly into one platform, strongly hints in the direction of travel for the industry.

Whilst a first, it’s clear the desire of both retailers and advertisers is to move to a world where we can think customer and omnichannel first, creating advertising that targets customers throughout the journey with seamless measurement and insight, as opposed to cherry picking inventory in isolated activations with limited data.

I suspect too we’ll see an increased convergence with in-store and more offline media types coming into the self-serve platforms we’re seeing on their meteoric rise.

It just makes sense for all parties involved, including most importantly, the very people we ultimately serve, the customer.

Retail media spreads its wings

From Amazon to Tesco, Argos to Boots, digital retail media in the UK to date has largely centred around traditional grocery, beauty and general merchandise based retailers. However, it is clear that this is rapidly changing too.

Although shopper marketing opportunities have existing with quick-commerce partners for some time, this week’s announcement from Deliveroo and Criteo, building a dedicated media platform to allow brands to bid for placements across its digital estate in locations such as product results and checkout.

With much noise about inflation, the diminishing appetite for venture capitalist investment, questions over the long-term profitability of quick-commerce and the sheer number of players entering the landscape, retail media and mass-investment into in-app media from brands fighting to stand out could be the saviour to the likes of Deliveroo.

We should expect to see new formats and sampling opportunities opening up to advertisers and I suspect Deliveroo will not be the last quick-commerce player to jump on this opportunity.

Retail media has become more than a sales driver

With improved measurement capability, transparency from retailers and real-time self-serve platforms, the smartest players in retail media are undoubtedly those who are starting to use the media beyond its original intention as a pure sales driver.

Nomad Foods’ Group digital director, Francis Nicholas, adds that retail media has proven to be an effective test and learn channel, generating rich first-party data: “Whether it be promotion mechanics, assortment or elasticity of pricing, we’ve been able to quickly understand what resonates best with our customers through testing retail media at the point of activation”.

Clearly, real-time data from retail media offers access to first party data that brands and advertisers just haven’t had access to at scale previously, particularly so close to the action at the sales end of the funnel and we should expect to see more test and learn activity in this space as a result.

Despite the noise, we shouldn’t ignore the fundamentals

For all the evolution and speed at which retail media is developing, the elephant in the room is that retail media largely continues to be planned and activated in a complete silo within many brands and advertiser’s businesses.

Planning budget and pressing the activation button simply isn’t enough in 2022 and really its high-time that brands and advertisers understand that the digital shelf, inclusive of retail media, should be considered holistically.

There is an irrefutable relationship between the performance of retail media throughout the shopper journey and positive sales outcomes, particularly in relation to content on retailer product pages where customers are driven to close the sale.

Despite this, product page content – a fundamental in basic digital retailing – still doesn’t get the focus and optimisation that it needs, even in 2022.

A quick scan of most categories on a leading grocery website will show you front-of-pack shots rendering awkwardly and unclearly, coupled with the briefest of product titles and descriptions, effectively looking no different to supermarket private label, naturally giving no cause for customers to buy.

Product pages must excite, provide theatre and inspire.

Retail media provides a powerful mechanism to standout on the digital shelf, but brands should ask themselves if they’re truly ready to convert that paid for traffic with the best execution to aid education and purchase.

Can retail media spend overtake TV?

The rapid advancement of retail media, from its increased sophistication and use cases, since I penned my original article two years ago is testament to the increased role it is going to play into the future.

Publicis Groupe’s CEO Arthur Sadoun predicted just last year that retail media spending will exceed that of TV by 2025 and it’s really not looking like that much of a bold prediction already as momentum really accelerates.

Brands and advertisers should carefully think about continuing to experiment, aspiring to plan in a more joined-up way across trade and media teams, but absolutely think more holistically about the role retail media plays in the customer journey and overall experience.

Getting out of our silos and applying customer lenses will only make our media perform better.

It is impossible to look too far into the future, but’s it’s exciting. Who knows what retail media will bring again in another two years?

Stuart Johnston is commerce business director at Publicis Commerce

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