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What you see is what you get: the power of point-of-sale advertising.

What you see is what you get: the power of point-of-sale advertising

What does our eye turn to as we walk up to a bar to buy a drink? Well not, apparently, the attractiveness or otherwise of the bar staff, but the plethora of bottles, beer mats, taps, towels, coolers, menus and posters that crowd for our attention in and around the bar.

The reason, it seems, is that most of us have not decided what brand of drink to buy when we walk into a pub. Instead, we rely on these point-of-sale materials to help us to make a decision.

In the April 2011 issue of The Marketer, Barda reports that as part of research conducted by Ipsos for Carlsberg Sweden, 250 pub-goers at three venues in Stockholm were asked to wear eye-tracking spectacles, specially designed to look and feel as natural as possible so people would forget they were wearing them. After each person's visit to the bar, the results from the eye-tracking technology were supplemented with a follow-up interview. In-depth interviews and focus groups with bar-tenders were also held.

And the outcome? A very high correlation between what the customers looked at and what they bought.

Barda reports that Carlsberg is reluctant to reveal exactly which point-of-sale materials have the greatest effect, but the company does admit that slight adjustments to the lighting around the bar area can make a significant difference to which drinks people actually buy. And some of the point-of-sale materials that marketers thought were most 'cool' actually went largely unnoticed by the drink-buying public.

In the June 2011 issue of Marketing, Bashford strongly agrees that what shoppers see on the shelf - product packaging, shelf displays and promotions - affects their decision about what to buy. But the secret of successful visual merchandising, she contends, is not 'wonderfully engineered display units, signage or impressive window displays'. Rather, it lies in providing a key message that is targeted, relevant and visible. Firms that fail to provide pertinent information in a clear and consistent way actually risk turning people away from their products.

Bashford reveals how one company - Wilkinson Sword - is using new technology to avoid 'bamboozling customers with messages likely to get lost in the clutter of other brands' point-of-sale activity'. Consumers interested in finding out more about its Hydro razors are invited to access a quick-response code to receive extra information via their handsets. This enables the firm to communicate the complex technology of the new razor to people who are really interested in it, while avoiding overloading the general public with details that would be superfluous.

Bashford advises firms to dig deeply to really understand their customers. 'What motivates them to buy a product or causes them to disregard it?' she asks. 'You will discover countless observations, but make sure you distil the key insights that will inform your in-store communication strategy.'

This is precisely what Carlsberg is doing. The firm concedes that it is tweaking the design of its point-of-sale material in the light of what it has learned from the eye-tracking research in order to affect drinkers' decisions about what to buy and help them to change their minds. The company describes one aspect of its research findings as 'a very big deal' and says it is putting much effort into implementing it. Now that really does call for a Carlsberg.