Retail media networks (RMNs) have become increasingly popular recently, thanks to their ability bring campaigns closer to the point of sale.
For Mars Inc, the owner of M&Ms and Pedigree, there is real value in retail media networks; the company has a strong history of using them in markets like the US and China not just as a performance tool for driving sales, but in transcending channels with first-party data.
"While measuring brand health and tracking, we always default to which campaign sold more. Retail media is built for that," Ron Amram, senior director for global media at Mars, tells Campaign Asia-Pacific on a recent trip to Singapore.
"Some retail networks focus on driving sales on their channel but not across the whole brand and all touchpoints. So the ones that can transcend their channel are effective for us, and the ones that don't, we are saying to them: 'Your price is too high.' So we have created a hierarchy and invested a fair amount of testing and learning in the markets that do well."
Amram says Mars is selective on which RMNs it works with, as quality can vary widely from "excellent" to "terrible".
In the US, RMNs include Amazon Advertising, Walmart Connect, and Target's Roundel, which helps advertisers target shoppers based on their in-store and online browsing and purchasing behaviour.
In Asia Pacific, RMNs include GrabAds, Carousell Media Group, Panda Ads and Gojek Ads Network.
"Just because you sell ads does not mean you are good. However, we have had a pretty good history in the last three years of building and using the retail networks that are working well," explains Amram.
"China is a good example, but we are also starting to see this in regional meetings with vendors outside China. We are meeting with local retail players in the region. It is a good educational experience because these great super apps are being developed. It is not just a retail media network. It is utility and power to make human lives easier and better."
Making consumers' lives easier is important, explains Amram, as the decision by a retail grocery company to sell online versus on an RMN like Amazon will change how consumers shop.
"Are you changing how they interact with brands? Are you changing how they shop? Are you changing how they entertain themselves?" asks Amram.
Natasha Morris, the global digital performance lead at Mars, while also visiting Singapore, tells Campaign that RMNs can be a standalone product, but Mars is keen to see how they will fit into more of the entire pie for its media strategy.
She points out that programmatic was a standalone piece a few years ago, but has now been integrated into media plans. She questions if retailers still want to continue selling retail media on its own, or if they will fold it into a wider experience of digital executions.
"We are seeing a breakout with many demand-side platforms having access to retail data. So how will we see that form and develop into a longer-term strategic vision?" says Morris. "I do see there is going to be convergence at some point. We are working closely with our retail teams [on] how that can feed into the media side as well."
Where retail media sits in the marketing mix
Most brands are currently funding retail media from existing budgets, but Mars is shifting its performance marketing budget to an overall marketing budget for media as the brand considers retail media as one big budget.
Within that media budget, non-linear television is increasingly attracting more focus and investment from Mars.
"CTV and OTT are a big part of our budget. The living room experience, lean-back consumption of media, and longer-form video execution in a cleaner environment are attractive," explains Amram. "The traditional linear TV is dying, but CTV is the new TV."
What Mars want from RMNs
For RMNs to better demonstrate the value of their media networks to brands like Mars, they need to be able to measure the impact of consumers' behaviours.
"Every media plan for every brand changes for us year over year. So what are RMNs doing to improve it? It is like the measurement," says Amram.
"We have brand media and retail, shopper, and e-commerce media. Mars historically had separate budgets for brand and shopper/sales. So we have to put them all together and optimise it holistically to find the right balance between brand media and shopper/retail or e-commerce. So, for example, with M&Ms, we have mymms.com, which is a way for us to insert brand media into ecommerce media."
Mars determines the right balance at the store level between shopper-based performance media and keeping top-of-mind awareness.
"You have to measure and see. We are finding that it changes by market, brand, and the brand's maturity. It may also change at the campaign level or time of year. So you have to create a model and sensitivity around it. The answer to [finding the right balance] is: 'It depends'," says Amram.
Morris stresses that using retail media is really about understanding how consumers engage with media across different devices, whether on their phone or computer or while watching TV and finding ways to engage with them in different ways on those devices.
She explains that as brands' budgets must work fluidly across those channels, RMNs must consider creative, messaging and measurement differences.
"Fragmentation from different walled gardens makes it more difficult for marketers to measure success, but ultimately it all comes back to the consumer," says Morris.
"We need to understand their journeys and how they interact with brands. There's always room for improvement in understanding our audience. Consumers should not perceive a siloed experience. We collaborate with retail partners and internal teams to understand their objectives and possibilities within the retail space."
One such collaboration by Mars is by working with its media agency EssenceMediacom to explore how biddable media can complement and enhance those objectives. In addition, some retail partners globally make their data available in biddable channels, so the brand seeks to leverage that to improve the retail experience.
Mars then emphasises what happens on its retail media sites and leverages those learnings to improve its approach worldwide.
Nick Jefferies, global account director at EssenceMediacom, opines that marketers sometimes get stuck in a 'brand versus retail' or 'brand versus performance' debate in digital channels when consumers do not differentiate between brand versus performance media
"Consumers also do not always differentiate between buying online, in-store, or just the product. So that holistic measurement is essential because otherwise, you are just optimising to an online sale, but that's not the purpose of advertising," Jefferies explains to Campaign.
"It is optimised for sale. So that broader measurement piece is critical, and sometimes we get lost as an industry in the retail media channel being a retail media outcome only."