Far too many TV channels and a creeping cynicism towards consumer advertising are causing brand managers to re-think promotional budgets. Could PoS at last be about to come into its own asks Des King?

In hindsight it seems to have taken marketeers an astonishingly long time to catch on to a simple truth about shopping. We might plan it in the comfort of our own homes but, until the e.commerce revolution seriously takes hold, there’s only one place in which to do the business and that’s in-store.

According to Mandy Long of PoS specialists Bezier, the size of the UK PoP market could be worth as much as £765M per annum – comparable to outdoor advertising and in excess of radio and cinema advertising.

Good as far as it goes – until you consider that £12 475M was spent on advertising on TV, press, posters, radio and cinema last year.

PoS advertising can be supremely effective at driving sales and, in many cases, is the key means of doing so. Accounting for only 5% of current total media spend, it still lags behind other marketing tools in popularity.

There are two clear reasons for this says Mandy Long: “Firstly, many PoS creators offer their clients no means of measuring its effectiveness, making it impossible to quantify the success of a campaign. Secondly, some types of PoS never reach optimum compliance levels, thus preventing any meaningful evaluation at all.”

Measurement of results has always been the bottom-line criteria upon which any marketing campaign is judged, no more so than when consumer confidence is at a low ebb and budgets are more likely to be red pencilled rather than green lighted.

“In the past PoS has been used primarily as a promotional item when you can’t afford to do advertising and as a way of catching people’s eye within the store,” observes Kevin Vyse of Novas International.

“Historically, marketing and brand managers have been the most concerned about the brand’s execution at primary level [in other words through advertising and packaging].

“Outside of that they’ve basically tended to hand everything over to the sales force. Rather than go back to marketing, there’s been a tendency to go straight to a PoS supplier, give him or her a couple of pack shots and just get something cobbled together.”

While this is not wholly satisfactory, it is understandable in the context of a consumer audience tuned in to just the one commercial TV channel. Ironically, PoS’s apparent inability to be measurable and its subsequent relatively low level of esteem may now work in its favour by default as other higher profile marketing media come under increasing scrutiny.

“You’ve got a reduced audience because of media split,” says David Mason of PoP suppliers the Terry Smith Group. There are now so many TV channels. In the old days, if you ran an advertisement in the commercial break during ‘Coronation Street’, the whole country saw it but that’s no longer the case.

“So for a brand manager to be able to get at the same level of audience he’d have to place advertisements across five or more different channels. It’s very costly and his or her ability to reach his target audience through that medium is being consistently reduced.

“That same target audience will go through one of, say, six competing retail outlets. The only effective means of communicating is by PoS and PoP.”

Despite the implication that PoS appears to be rising up the marketing agenda by default, with the elevation has come a far greater cognisance of reflecting brand values. Breakdowns still occur at the agency end says Kevin Vyse.

In an ever-increasingly brand literate market it follows that PoS needs to be created at the same time that packaging is created or at least with a strategic view in mind. That would normally be back at marketing stage when the brand is being moved on or developed – and would take into account the market for that year and those places into which the brand can go.

“Unfortunately, people are rarely seen to include PoS at that critical planning stage. Below the line still plays second fiddle. If it’s really working then the role of PoS should be almost seamless. I see its future in being able to take the brand and make it six times bigger – within the same space.”

David Mason agrees that PoS issues are all too often taken on board as an afterthought. “It’s very wrong and it’s something we’re working very hard to change. For PoP, especially free-standing display units, expertise in structural engineering is required and an agency just will not have that level of capability. They can do good graphics but they’re pushed to create efficient and effective display units.

“We are, however, detecting a change of focus at brand manager level, possibly because of the TV issue.”

Increasingly, in favour with advertisers and commanding more attention at marketing and creative director level, surely PoS has got it made?

There is, of course, a snag. It’s called compliance. For the sake of argument, a brand can spend £50K on its display units. It then has to spend another £50K in securing two weeks worth of display space across say 250 retail outlets within Tesco.

“The problem is that the labour available at the outlets is either inadequate or incompetent,” says David Mason, “in which case the display units don’t get put up and they find that they’re not getting everything into store.”

In other words, the store has not complied with the deal. This is probably the PoS sector’s major grievance and one that its trade association POPAI has been quick to focus attention upon. Research carried out on behalf of POPAI has identified that in some cases store managers claimed to have only achieved a 50% compliance rate for certain types of PoP.

One obvious solution then is to ensure that units are designed to be user-friendly in store. “If you make something that is over-complicated that has to be assembled with a load of different parts then it just tends not to happen,” says Mr Mason.

“The units probably won’t even get out of the back room. The store may claim to have never received them.”

The alternative is to pull in a specialist installer. CJ Services probably handles up to 4000 PoS items every week.

The company undertook Camelot’s revamped national lottery campaign last year that, according to business development manager Lloyd Weineck, entailed covering 10 000 sites in 10 days.

CJ Services are currently handling 12 500 sites into which they are installing new equipment. Camelot operates through 36 000 different outlets.

“Our biggest complaint with some of the PoS material that we have to put up is the design of it,” says Lloyd Weineck.

“If it isn’t that, it’s the manufacture. Our expertise is structural so we try to get into the discussion loop with the client as early as possible.”

CJ Services offers a guaranteed compliance rate of 90%. Weineck agrees that, in an ideal world, installation would rest with the retailer but, evidently, it simply just doesn’t work like that.

“If someone is prepared to spend money in PoS material you may as well go the extra 50 yards in making sure that it gets fully merchandised. When you ship it directly to the stores, the problem’s always at the back,” he says.

According to Julie Roe of Mondi Display, retailers are not only erratic in terms of compliance but are also increasingly averse to the ‘cardboard city’ effect of second site temporary corrugated displays in-store.

“Corrugated has been given the back seat of the internal carcass and new exciting materials have taken its place on the front row,” says Julie. “Pliable plastics, frosted PP, different weighted papers and card, MDF, foamex, fragranced and UV inks are all now being far more widely used.”

Recent rollouts at Mondi have included both lighting and water. Lighting a tried and tested medium in permanent fixtures has always been a grey area in the temporary market but a recently successful Italian campaign for Procter & Gamble has undoubtedly added a further dimension in supporting brand values.

A temporary display, incorporating a fragrance-emitting pond, has also allowed for a quick turnaround, cost-effective display with an almost sensual twist.

It will pave the way forward for future campaigns says Andrew Bradbury of Procter & Gamble Global Marketing,