RESTON, Va. -- Advertising campaigns centered on customer participation scored big points with judges of the Creative Choice Awards, sponsored by the National Grocers Association here.
This year's award-winning campaigns, which ranged from seasonal private-label launch promotions to improving a store's brand equity, all possessed at least one common denominator -- an emphasis on including the consumer.
The award-winning advertising campaigns did not use a hard-sell approach to promote their products or brand image, but were customer-centered -- often using consumer participation in an interactive environment. In several instances, the consumer was the campaign.
Piggly Wiggly, Memphis, Tenn., waged a successful merchandising campaign with its "Kids and the Basics" program and took home the Best of Show honors in the merchandising category as well as the Best Nutrition/Healthy Living Merchandising Event category.
"For the past three years, Piggly Wiggly has been undertaking a strategic growth plan for the Piggly Wiggly name and brand," said Lori Guyton, director of public relations for the retailer. "Kids and the Basics is part of that plan."
The interactive program for children five years old and up, which took place under tents in Piggly Wiggly parking lots in 20 different market areas, focused on healthy eating habits and featured appearances from the retailer's mascot Mr. Pig.
Mr. Pig was joined by Nancy Nutrition, a character developed for the program. "Kids and the Basics" also included interactive videos and games that allowed children to win prizes when they answered healthy food-habit questions correctly.
"It [Kids and the Basics] contained all the important elements of [successful] marketing," Guyton added. It had event marketing with customer participation in the program. There were also public-relations elements with local news coverage and officials appearing at the events, she said.
The event also received support from Southern Living, a family-oriented publication, which also aided in developing the program.
Although sales during the promotion were up about 8% to 9% across the board, according to Debbie Underwood, director of marketing for Piggly Wiggly, the retailer viewed the event as a community service. The return on investment is seen in terms of long-term customer loyalty and not quick sales figures, she said.
The "Kids and the Basics" campaign is a social responsibility program, Underwood told SN.
The campaign, which is the brainchild of Underwood, was originated in 1997 and ran through the summer of 1998. As recently as this March the retailer continued portions of the program by sponsoring a cook-off with some program participants in Birmingham, Ala.
The recipes featured in the cook-off by the young chefs were learned while participating in the "Kids and the Basics" program. And the retailer has no plan to curtail the community-oriented campaign anytime soon. The plan, Underwood said, is to expand the program from Piggly Wiggly parking lots and move it to the classroom.
Another award-winning consumer-focused campaign came from Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, which took the Best Advertising Campaign runner-up honors and a Best of Show nomination.
The "My Hy-Vee Sing and Smile" contest was an image campaign more than a sales campaign, said Amber Arnett-Bequeaith, senior account manager at Meoycks & Priebe Advertising, West Des Moines, Iowa, which helped develop Hy-Vee's contest.
The campaign featured an update of the retailer's promotional jingle, which has been in use since 1964.
"The objective was to increase the interest in brand equity," Arnett-Bequeaith said. Hy-Vee's contest ran from April through July 1998. It was promoted in 11 markets through television and radio, along with in-store signs, posters and banners.
Contestants from as far away as California forwarded videotapes and audio cassettes of themselves singing their version of Hy-Vee's updated jingle in the hopes of winning a spot in the commercial.
The 11 winners, one from each market area, participated in a second commercial featuring all winners, each of whom also received a $500 gift certificate from Hy-Vee.
One of the semi-finalists included a choir group from Sioux Falls, S.D., that traveled to West Des Moines so it could compete in the latter rounds of competition, Arnett-Bequeaith said.
She added, however, that the promotion campaign wasn't as much a singing contest as it was an expression of what Hy-Vee meant to its customers.
"It created a lot of good will," she said. And there was an increase in sales during the campaign period.
Although many of the award-winning campaigns were interactive, Agora Food Merchants, Toronto, formerly part of the Oshawa Group and now known as Sobey's retail brand, won for Best Private Label Ad for a summer product launch campaign.
"What we tried to do is inspire food passion and the eating experiences of summer," said Gillian Kerr, brand marketing director for Agora.
The summer promotion event called "Our Compliments. The First Taste of Summer" introduced 45 new private-label summer products to consumers. The new products, which ranged from salad dressings to sirloin to salsa, were added to an already existing stable of 150 private-label summer products. "It was a brand campaign," Kerr told SN. And a successful campaign too -- private-label sales rose 25% during the almost six-week national promotion. Agora supplied more than 1,500 independent operators and 100 corporate stores with the seasonal products, according to Kerr.
"The campaign had two goals, to create news around the summer events at the store and support our brand and express its quality," she said.
Kerr said extensive print coverage aided in the campaign. The retailer distributed a 20-page private-label promotional magazine called "Our Compliments RSVP" through newspapers to 8.5 million Canadian homes. Given Canada's population of about 30 million, that means almost every Canadian household was touched by the promotion, Kerr said.
Agora also developed television commercials with the sounds and sights of summer -- images of sizzling barbecues and children running around and playing with a garden hose.
"The success [of the campaign] was the result of expressing the experiences of summer," Kerr said.
Mike Olson's Food Emporium, Lynwood, Wash., was a big winner and took home the Best Grand Opening or Special Event Print Ad and Best Deli Department Merchandising Event.
The Best Grand Opening or Special Event honor was awarded for Food Emporium's Chicken and Ribs BBQ Competition Advertisement, which featured store employees in sepia-toned print ads dressed up as late nineteenth century cowboys.
The event was promoted heavily for six weeks, according to Tracy Noot, account manager with market advertising for Associated Grocers, Seattle. Associated Grocers, which supplies Food Emporium, also helped the independent operator develop its advertising campaigns.
The promotion also included a direct-mail campaign, in-store signs and a remote radio setup with a local station on the days of the event.
Like its award-winning peers, the campaign was customer-oriented. The event featured the barbecue competition with customers setting up their barbecues and smokers in the store's parking lot.
Participants could also take advantage of square dancing, a beer and wine garden and receive barbecue tips from Merle Ellis, author of "The Great American Meat Book."
Noot added that although the barbecue competition was aimed at being a community service, the campaign was also an effort to increase the customer count. The results surpassed the retailer's expectations, Noot said.
The barbecue competition, in its second year, was held July 11 and 12, 1998, and grew in scope and sales. Sales were up 15% from the previous year's promotion, Noot told SN. The retailer had projected a 12% increase.
"It was a very fun event," Noot told SN. "We'll be doing it again."
Food Emporium's second award came in the Best Deli Department Merchandising Event with its "Bistro to Go" campaign.
Noot told SN that Food Emporium was going after the same home-meal-replacement consumers who might also be interested in Boston Market's offering. All meal components are made from scratch and presented as an upscale alternative to the usual fast food.
Some of the products of "Bistro to Go," which was heavily promoted in full-color print ads and in-store advertisements after Thanksgiving 1998, offered foods such as prime rib with rosemary and garlic, pork loin, barbecued ribs, Mediterranean salads and smoked turkey. Other ad venues for the Bistro included run-of-the-paper ads in local papers and full color posters enlarged and placed over the checkout. Media kits were also sent out to local press.
The post-Thanksgiving advertisement blitz came during a usually slow time for the retailer, but the plan worked.
Before the ad campaign, the retailer's deli department sales accounted for about 5% of total store sales. After the Bistro program was set up in the store, sales rose to 7% and after the ad campaign deli department sales rose again, to 11% of total store sales, which Noot said is very impressive.
"It was amazing," she added.
More than a year since "Bistro to Go" was introduced, the deli department now averages 10% of total store sales in the summer and 9% in the winter, Noot told SN.
With the Internet establishing itself as a driving force in effective marketing, Raley's Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif., a leader in many areas of the supermarket industry, took home best Internet Web site honors.
"We didn't want to jump on the Web site bandwagon and have a site because everyone else did," said Michael Teel, president and chief executive officer of Raley's, of the time the retailer took in developing its Web site. "A distinct point of difference [with Raley's site] is that we wanted it to reflect Raley's value and image."
Raley's site, www.raleys.com, was developed in-house, and was made to be user-friendly. The site offers information such as the company's history, news, recipes and classes, as well as on-line services such as prescription refills, all at the click of the mouse.
Teel noted that the prescription-refill segment of the site is receiving very favorable response from consumers.
The site went live Sept. 30, 1998, after six months of in-house demonstrations and has been receiving a steady stream of cyber traffic.
"We measure [the number of visits] daily and have been happy with the results," said Bob Stobener, project coordinator of on-line services for Raley's. He added that the retailer has experienced the added benefit of receiving more direct feedback from customers.