November 2006 - Per Inquiry

The New Reach and Frequency

By Rick Petry

As one transitioning from an old-line mass media business to what is effectively a new media play, I’m often asked: what exactly are you doing these days? As I’ve explained to my business partners, the trouble with our elevator speech is it only works in the Empire State Building. But among the many interesting things we are up to is a new paradigm that could redefine what electronic retailing means. Along with Sun Microsystems, our company is developing a consumer application that leverages radio frequency identification (RFID) chip technology to use sight, sound and motion to spur emotion in the very place where the overwhelming majority of purchase decisions are still made-in the last few feet at traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.

Here’s how it works: imagine a retail fixture with an LCD screen embedded in it for an athletic shoe manufacturer. A curious target consumer walks up to the display, grabs a shoe off the shelf, and a chip inserted in the sample triggers content on the screen that romances the high tops atop the pedestal. The prospect can then interact with a touchscreen to check out the clothes that go with the sneakers and determine whether or not his size is on hand. The only thing missing is the chute to deliver the box at his feet.

Perhaps it’s a dynamic sign of the times, but as programming gets decoupled from platforms (think episodic TV viewed on a video iPod), such technology offers another opportunity-to take the tactics we have learned in direct marketing and apply them in what P&G calls “the moment of truth” when an item magically flies from shelf into cart. Take, for instance, that devilish scarcity mentality we whip up with our exhortations of “Call now; quantities are limited!” Didn’t Costco employ the very same ploy when it sold me a Panasonic massage chair that appeared amid a chorus of angels during one of my frequent membership club treasure hunts?

You know, it’s the vibrating recliner with the tear-inducing “no pain, no gain” lumbar effect sitting in my bonus room next to the NordicTrack-both of which I’ve used exactly three times (as my helpful wife frequently reminds me) and that all teens entering that room covet, as they trample on my woefully passé Sega Genesis game console to get dibs. Now imagine such a trophy benefiting from our abilities as storytellers, where the potential buyer self-selects the message. Surely those semi-retired carnival barkers in the lunch lady hairnets doling out cocktail wieners that husbands like me think are a substitute for cooking dinner are going to get a run for their coupons.

Remember that ubiquitous Sports Illustrated sneaker phone premium from the ’80s commercial, where the CTA compelled you to pick up the telephone so you could start doing your own Maxwell Smart gags? Would you believe that shoe has become a remote control amid the retail red zone? Signal a touchdown for marketers and consumers alike.

Rick Petry is chairman of the ERA Board of Directors and the chief marketing officer of Downstream. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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