Anmol Jhunjhunwala
Marketing

The psychology behind FMCG hotspots

Here are some tips on catching the consumer’s eye in a noisy, crowded retail market.

The sheer noise a consumer faces while entering a modern trade outlet (MTO), combined with the new entrants in the market every year, makes it an uphill task for any brand to catch the eye. As marketers scramble for insights, it is interesting to point out how one of the lesser leveraged fields - behavioural science - has proved viable for increasing the sales of brands like The Economist, Netflix, Amazon, and others.

Let's explore some successful measures that brands have taken to avoid drowning in clutter. We will also attempt to explain why these measures worked, keeping in mind the workings of human behaviour.

It is always better to do something simple extraordinarily well, than to do something extraordinary in a just about adequate way.

Pringles and Scotch Brite used what appears to be the most ordinary trick in the book, visibility at the point of purchase. But they elevated it cleverly to influence stronger brand recall and, in turn, increase sales.

Team Pringles wanted to ride on eye-catching designs and create a spectacular display in an MTO in an attempt to create awareness, build recall, and trigger purchase. The idea was to tailor-make a design unique to Pringles that appeals to the subconscious mind of the customers, thereby influencing their behaviour choices in favour of the brand.

Anmol Jhunjhunwala
Anmol Jhunjhunwala

It created a mammoth-sized dummy Pringles pack lined on top of the bay, with some of the chips spilling out of the box in a delicious way. This increased the sales by “leaps and bounds”, to a point that the store was not able to match inventory.

The psychology behind FMCG hotspots

Several studies have shown that brand recall has a positive impact on product sale, and innovations in design is a popular way of doing this.

In the complex shopper journey, during which any consumer comes in contact with hundreds of brands, brand recall can be the make, or break point for any sale.

On similar lines, Scotch Brite utilised the aerial space in an MTO to not just break the clutter in the moment, but also create a functional touch point that drives brand association. So, how does brand association convert to sales?

The psychology behind FMCG hotspots

Brand association converts commodities to names, like ‘toothpaste’ into ‘Colgate’, ‘search’ to ‘Google’, ‘streaming shows/movies online’ to ‘Netflix’ in the mind of the shopper, helping the brand through subconscious marketing. Shoppers, who saw the above POS, would be more likely to think of Scotch Brite, when a grocery list is being made.

Aerial space has been used by other brands and sectors as well. Utilising it has successfully enabled brands to trigger purchases by capturing the eye of the consumer. For instance, Maggi was one of the pioneers of using aerial space in an offbeat way to not just win the coveted ‘eye level’, but also benefit from an additional psychological insight, let alone just the one.

Instead of looking for shelf space, Maggi gave GTs yellow net baskets to hang in their stores, for them to store Maggi in.

Not only did that allow Maggi to be at the desirable eye level, but it also helped trigger impulse purchases and trials for new variants. Maggi was later followed by chips and snacks brands, and the likes.

Maggi baskets at kirana stores
Maggi baskets at kirana stores

The beverage industry also yielded similar results by hanging the bottles, instead of placing them on the counter, ensuring placement at the line of sight of all customers walking in. With time, the idea of utilising aerial space became very popular in the FMCG category.

The psychology behind FMCG hotspots

Maggi and Coca-Cola were able to cash in on this hotspot back then, as every shopper starts by trying to be healthy with their grocery list. They tend to slack towards the end of the shopping trip. That is when the product can come into their view and close the deal. Pringles went one step ahead, created a niche hotspot, rather than bagging existing shelf space, while catching the customer’s eye.

The psychology behind FMCG hotspots

Similarly, Unilever is famous for its clever structure in GT chemist stores. In any chemist store, the personal care category of products always struggles for the limelight. Shelf spaces are usually dedicated to feminine hygiene products, condoms, nutrition products, and the likes.

Unilever came up with a small island structure between the walls and the shelves. Not only is it (at) eye level, it also works as a reminder for the consumers, because going by the science of eye tracking, it would be the first and the last thing they would see in the store. With time, other brands have started milking that structure, thereby proving that it was a wonderful innovation.

The psychology behind FMCG hotspots
The psychology behind FMCG hotspots

Finally, one of the most interesting but lesser-known case studies is that of how Asian Paints (followed by Berger Paints) managed to be more noticeable for their clients. The brand of the paint to be used is usually in the purview of a contractor. But with its colour mixing machines, Asian Paints made it a point to reach the TG. Until now, people had to buy one of the many premixed colours. Suddenly, there was a brand allowing you to come and mix colours to find your favourite. Naturally, it was a hit!

Asian Paints' colour mixing machine
Asian Paints' colour mixing machine

This innovation utilises the ‘IKEA Effect’. Wikipedia describes this as a “cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially create”.

In application, it means that people are likely to assign a higher value to a less perfect product they have contributed to, than an absolutely perfect product made entirely by an expert team. Simply put, feeling incapable triggers our need to prove self-efficacy which, in turn, makes us blow up the value we associate with things we have contributed to completing.

Companies like Build-A-Bear and IKEA work on this cognitive bias. Something similar was done by Coca-Cola, called Coca-Cola Freestyle, a machine that allowed consumers to mix and match more than 100 flavours to make their own.

Coca-Cola Freestyle machines
Coca-Cola Freestyle machines

Arc’s perspective: Instead of trying to just attract attention through hotspots, brands need to get ahead of the curve. Hotspot locations can be the vehicle we use to carry our creativity. It can be the methodology. But when it comes to increasing the probability of a sale, even the content, design and communication have a role to play.

There’s a need to unlearn and think of ways to actually stand out in the true sense. Finding potential ways to stand out in such a cluttered space is definitely a challenge, but relooking at it with the lens of innovation, engagement and understanding of human behaviour can take brands a long way. A lot of brands have made their mark in the consumer’s mind with such off-beat ideas, and here’s hoping that we can do the same in our journeys.

The author is brand strategy director, Arc Worldwide (Publicis In-Motion)