Ad agencies get active in the 'last mile' to capture customers

Despite all the twittering hype, the fastest-growing segment of the global advertising market is not online but in the store.

United Arab Emirates -Dubai- July 28, 2009:

BUSINESS: Claus Adams (cq-al), regional director of MENA Ogilvy, discusses the use of "activation" in advertising at his office in Dubai on Tuesday, July 28, 2009. Amy Leang/The National
 *** Local Caption ***  amy_072809_clausadams_04.jpg
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Despite all the twittering hype, the fastest-growing segment of the global advertising market is not online but in the store. Shopper marketing, a part of a larger category of promotions, events and other non-traditional forms of advertising sometimes called "brand activation", has proved largely recession-proof. The sector is now seeing rapid growth in the Middle East and North Africa, according to Claus Adams, the MENA regional director of OgilvyAction, the activation arm of the advertising agency Memac Ogilvy.

"Shopper marketing is the fastest growing part of our market in the last two years," he said. "It's faster than digital, and we see that coming to our region." Since Memac Ogilvy opened its Dubai activation division in February last year, it has grown from three to 30 employees, and today represents about 30 per cent of the agency's business, Mr Adams said. The activation division opened a second office in Jeddah, followed by a third office in Beirut last month. "There will be more coming," Mr Adams said.

The regional increase parallels the growth in activation at Memac Ogilvy's parent company, the Ogilvy Group, itself owned by WPP. The company launched OgilvyAction in 2007 and today has 61 offices around the world. Brand activation companies have their roots in promotions, the coupons, vouchers, contests, sales and displays that seek to make consumers actually do something, rather than just think about it.

One of OgilvyAction's latest campaigns in Dubai launched the Ponds brand of face cream in the region by turning stores pink for a day and offering romantic getaways to the Taj Mahal. "Activation is about creating engagement with consumers," Mr Adams said. "What we are doing is to go backwards, starting at the point of sale." That backwards path, he said, can start from the internet search the shopper did before getting in the car, to the brand that sponsored the concert he or she attended the night before. Mr Adams speaks of it as controlling the "last mile" the shopper travels before making the actual purchase.

This "last mile" can be more chaotic than one might expect. A recent Ogilvy Action global survey found that even when shoppers enter a store with a shopping list, more than a quarter leave the decision of which brand to buy until they are standing in the aisle. Almost a fifth of shoppers surveyed also said they impulsively bought items they had no intention of buying when they walked in the door.

This last-minute decision-making means that how items are organised and presented within a store has a huge influence on how well they sell, Mr Adams said.