Thursday, November 19, 2009

Agape in the aisle

It all became clear in an interview a few years back with a man named Sherwood Schwartz, the television producer who created the dubious passel of 1970s-era comedy shows like Gilligan’s Island, Beverly Hillbillies, and the Brady Bunch, among others. The interviewer asked him to explain why every one of his shows always began with an expository theme song---a song that would explain in vivid detail the premise of the show (“So this is the tale of the castaways….” and “Come and listen to my story ‘bout a man named Jed….” and “Here’s the story of a lovely lady…”). Schwartz said he believed this was the essential week-in-and-week-out ingredient to the success of his television comedies because, as he put it, “the puzzled cannot laugh.”

Cut to the aisle of your local supermarket. We use video systems to capture and code shopper styles and behaviors in retail stores. This lets us see thousands of repeated behaviors, many of them eye-opening to ourselves and our clients. But whether the study is about diapers, dog food or analgesics, we too often see a hidden segment of shoppers perhaps best described as “the puzzled.” These shoppers stand perfectly still. They stare at the shelf and—I’m not kidding—their mouths are usually open. When it seems like divine Providence will not explode off the shelf to help them find the brand answer they seem to be looking for, the following sequence usually takes place: they reach for a product, they heft it, they turn it over in their hands, they return it to the shelf, they reach for a competitive brand and go through the same “heft, read and regard” routine before putting it back. Then they walk away, shaking their heads ever so slightly (this is one of the reasons we also do intercepts—a way to learn what that whole last bit was all about.)

Obviously marketers need to make sure they’re not losing sales because something about the product or the package or the brand is causing head-scratching in the aisle. But it’s never a bad idea to apply the Schwartz Admonition to the point of sale because of a truth we’ve documented too many times: the puzzled cannot buy.
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1 comment:

  1. Was in Seattle a few weeks back. Safeway had 14 different kinds of apples on display (and zero information on any of the,). A wonderful specialty market--Metropolitan--also displayed apples but had a fabulous display of Aurora apples (a cross between Gala and Splendor, harvested in mid-September at the peak season,great for dessert) cross merchandised with cider and cheese, etc. Which one would you buy? While SKU rationalization is all the rage, perhaps consumer optimization should get some play as well...