CPG Converts March Madness to Retail Theater

It is coming down to the last wire. We’ve spent the last couple of weeks glued to our TVs and live streaming devices, cheering on our favorite college basketball teams. It’s March Madness (even though it’s almost April!) , and it has not just infiltrated our mind, it is made inroads in our markets — supermarkets that’s. Consumer packaged goods companies understand that where there is an emotional hook, there is the prospect of launching retail theater (along with the sales that go with it!)

Sports tie-ins are a staple of CPG because Wheaties place Lou Gehrig on their cereal box in 1934. Over time, promotional displays tying into soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey and the Olympics have become almost de rigueur.

But in the past few years, screens have taken a more elaborate turn. CPG manufacturers are turning out of two dimensional screens — along an aisle or endcap within the supermarket — to three dimensional, interactive extravaganzas which dominate the whole retail space. We call it retail theatre.

From the zone

Perhaps the most obvious examples are in drinks and snacks. The sky-high stacks of pop, beer, candy and chips create whole zones, controlling substantial floor space. (Soccer tie-ins prefer to use the moniker”zone”, particularly when it comes the mother of all possible tie-ins, the Super Bowl.) “Party Zone” and”Snack Zone” are only a couple of the phrases we see used to link sports fans with their favorite indulgences. You can call it the super-sizing of screen.

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And it’s not confined to one brand or product lineup. With this much space, some of the biggest players in CPG create multi-brand, U-shaped floor arches or displays.

What is driving this desire among CPG brands for can not be missed in-store retail screens? Three factors. The first is the web. With internet outlets and home delivery making trips to the supermarket less of a requirement, CPG companies will need to capitalize on every opportunity to connect with shoppers when they walk into physical retail. These screens engage and entice like no shelf talker can. And when a shopper has their children together — watch out! Kids are an ideal audience for retail theatre.


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The second driver of retail theatre is technology. Advances in technology and cost-efficient materials such as corrugate have made the impossible not only possible, but cheap too. Three-dimensional floor displays which were unthinkable a couple of years back, either because they were too costly or too complex to efficiently assemble in-store are currently in supermarkets throughout the country. These break-through yet light-weight and temporary structures have changed the game in CPG temporary screen.

The third is gaining unconventional positioning in the front part of the shop or another high visibility area that you may not expect to find a specific product in. A dynamic display won’t only capture the attention of consumers, in addition, it provides an extremely appealing option to buyers that are on the look-out for something special, particularly during key seasons or promotional windows.

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Interactive and entertaining

Which brings us back to March Madness. The NCAA”Big Dance” is among the heaviest TV viewing periods during the year. With 67 matches over 19 days, live match coverage averages 12 million viewers, while live streaming brings in an astounding 69.1 million views. With that type of dedicated audience within an elongated time period, March Madness presents the ideal time to leverage an interactive in-store screen.

CPG manufacturers are leaping on the March Madness screen ministry, with floor stickers that look like the free throw lane on the hardwood and signage which comes quite close to enrolled NCAA branding (it is a legal tightrope but can prove to be surprisingly effective). Some organizations are even co-opting the beloved”Pop-A-Shot” basketball arcade game and construction displays around them. Consumers may stock up on chips while they shoot hoops.

This sort of active engagement immediately creates an emotional connection for shoppers of all ages. As grocery stores used to place coin-operated pony rides beside their entry/exit doors for an enjoyable youth experience, manufacturers are bringing pleasure inside stores with screens that invite interaction.

Stew Leonard’s is among the pioneers in retail theatre. The Norwalk, CT-based grocer did not create the large CPG screens, but it did shine at retail theatre with singing, dancing and talking animatronic cows, chickens and farmers during its stores. It is a shopping Disneyland that generations of families can not get enough of.

Staying power

As a marketer, among the most appealing areas of March Madness is your remaining power. This year, the first round of matches kicked off on March 19. The championship airs on April 8 but that three-week timeframe is somewhat misleading. Beneath the halo of March Madness, league matches to get in the NCAA Tourney start months before. Essentially, brands profit from more than five weeks of relevant, passionate, stimulating exposure when they tie-into the insanity.

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This is equal to the exposure length afforded by two of the greatest shopping”vacations” — Christmas and Halloween — in which screens can be up for 6 months or longer.

Grocers are facing more competition than ever before. Between online buying and curbside/parking lot pick-up, supermarkets will need to find more reasons for shoppers to come into their shops, and to optimize purchases per trip. In CPG, as in the whole physical retail industry, the survival of brick and mortar is dependent on providing entertaining experiences and creating persuasive retail theater.











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