Creativity in retail media: Navigating the next frontier

In the early days of TV and digital media, advertisers had problems in creatively leveraging the new mediums. Hugh Cameron, chief platform officer at retail media platform Zitcha and Peter Smyth, chief operating officer at VMG Digital write, retail media is now facing its own creative coming of age, and marketers are on notice.

As the digital landscape transforms, retail media emerges not just as a new platform but as the battleground for creativity where the fusion of innovation, technology, and marketing could redefine consumer engagement. With Australia’s market poised to triple to $3 billion in two years by PWC estimates, understanding the art and science of creativity in retail media becomes more than just strategy; it’s essential for survival.

Advertisers struggled to adapt to the new whizbang technology when television first arrived as a medium. Announcers – always well-spoken, neatly dressed and male – appeared on black and white screens talking into a microphone, as like radio, to hawk the merits of washing powder and the like. If it was good enough for radio, it was good enough for TV. Except it obviously wasn’t. Radio ads on TV neglected the fundamental USP of television – words and pictures could be combined.

The nascent days of digital media also saw advertisers and agencies initially struggling to work out how best to connect and engage with audiences. We have Google and Meta to thank for investing heavily in educating the market on best practice and creative effectiveness.

Retail media is now facing its own creative coming of age, and marketers are on notice. Taking a TV commercial and running it on in-store screens misses this relatively new medium’s opportunity and engagement model. While repurposing existing digital assets may come with suboptimal use of real estate, story arcs, or unnecessary calls to action, the opportunity represented by retail media warrants a creative approach that is customised for the engagement mindset. That is, ‘I’m here to shop; help me maximise my experience with what I need and what I didn’t yet know I wanted’.

Attention remains the currency we are trading in and should be treated as precious. Particularly with in-store screens, friction is removed between the sofa or car seat and checkout. Retail media creative serves as a reminder of the need of being fulfilled and why it should be acted upon today.

The data backs this up. A study by Magna Media Trials and Yahoo found that while media placement enabled marketers to find consumers where they are, creative quality is responsible for 56% of purchase intent and 23% ad-recall. For ads with poor creative quality, this drops to 2%. So getting retail media creative right is imperative.

Fortunately, the strong first-party data foundations of retail media networks means marketers can leverage rich, data-driven customer insights to inform their creative decision-making and optimise performance across retail media networks.

By harnessing the power of customer insights, advertisers can create more relevant and impactful ads that resonate with their target audience. Whether it’s tailoring messaging based on purchase history or optimising imagery for specific demographics, data-driven creativity is the key to success in retail media.

We know that good retail creative can drive immediacy of action. According to the Magna Media Trials and Yahoo study, strong visuals draw in consumers looking to buy. Those in-market for the product are much more likely to notice (20% lift) and enjoy (13% lift) ads with improved visuals, such as a human presence, product images, or prominent logo placement. Meanwhile, improved imagery on desktop leads to high search intent (23% lift), as well as improved message association (50% lift).

(L-R): Hugh Cameron, Peter Smyth

Then there is dynamic creative optimisation – a type of programmatic advertising that allows advertisers to create personalised ads based on real-time data. While still in its infancy, the potential for brands to leverage personalisation and data triggers such as consumer interest, location and seasonality, offers a much broader and targeted canvas for advertisers and retailers to engage with consumers. It’s one to definitely keep an eye on.

And, as advertising budgets increasingly flow into retail media networks, retailers will also have a responsibility to ensure advertisers of all sizes can easily and effectively engage with their target audiences. Democratising access to creative services will help level the competitive playing field against larger brands to create and optimise creative content that drives performance.

Advertising has always been marked by adaptability to emerging mediums and technologies. Like the transition from radio to television and the early days of digital, marketers and their creative partners have had to continually refine their creative strategies. Retail media is coming of age and creativity in the sector, which presents exciting new opportunities for brands to connect with consumers, will play a key factor in its success.

Hugh Cameron is the chief platform officer at Zitcha. Peter Smyth is the chief operating officer at VMG Digital.


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