Shopping-Cart-Ad Plan That Might Actually Work
Launches Pilot Program in Northeast as Retailers Express
By Jack Neff
February 07, 2007
BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- The shopping cart as ad
medium -- a so-far elusive dream for everyone from
fledgling entrepreneurs to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
and Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts -- may finally
have found its killer app.
Keep 'em quick: MediaCart execs say very short video ads
are the most effective.
At least that's what backers of MediaCart, a shopping
cart with video-, voice- and radio-frequency
identification, are hoping. MediaCart quietly rolled
into a three-store pilot in the Northeast on Feb. 1,
said company executives, who noted that the system has
drawn interest -- if not commitments so far -- from the
nation's top 10 retailers. The company plans two more
regional tests by summer and a national rollout by
First national player
MediaCart is at least the third entry into the
computer-aided-shopping-cart space, and neither of the
other two have rolled out nationally yet. The oldest,
Cuesol's Shopping Buddy, is in 20 New England Stop &
But MediaCart executives feel they've cracked the code
by putting their video screens atop the back of the
cart, where it's almost impossible not to see during a
shopping trip. The carts have cellphone-style navigation
buttons on the handle and a self-scanning feature that
can be used for nearly instant checkouts.
They also use voice-recognition technology to help
shoppers find products, mobile-phone capability to
connect users with customer-service personnel, and RFID
to allow direct marketing and market research.
At MediaCart's Plano, Texas, test store, Procter &
Gamble Co., General Mills, Kraft Foods and PepsiCo are
among major marketers running ads and promotions on the
video screens. MediaCart declined to identify which
marketers are participating in its Northeast pilot.
Timing is crucial
MediaCart isn't much of a "Sisomo" machine, a la Mr.
Roberts' vision of the shopping cart as ad vehicle.
MediaCart Chief Marketing Oficer Jon Kramer discourages
marketers from using video longer than a couple of
seconds- -- bout the longest he believes shoppers pay
attention to most in-store messages. The exception is at
checkout, where the carts can be programmed to play
clips of Disney DVDs to induce impulse purchases by moms
with kids in tow.
Several hundred consumers have made research trips
through MediaCart's test facility, and reviews appear to
"It just blew me away what they were doing with it,"
said Ressie Browning, 67, of Cedar Hill, Texas, who
works two days a week selling automotive glass. "I
looked at the ads a lot, noticing that they popped up as
you walked by [the product] and [said] whether it was on
special. What I liked best was being able to locate
items by being able to type in two or three letters."
Rosemarie Cidmonte, a Plano, Texas, bank executive in
her 50s, said she recalled ads from P&G's Tide and
PepsiCo's Propel. She usually uses store circulars but
liked having promotions pop up on the cart instead.
Whether the novelty will wear off and whether the cart
will get as much attention in stores shoppers are more
familiar with will be among the factors the real-world
pilots will test.
MediaCart is probably the most ambitious attempt yet to
use RFID in consumer marketing, but it doesn't put
radio-frequency chips on individual products -- the most
costly and controversial RFID proposition to date. Each
cart has an RFID reader, while shelf price labels have
The system also lets retailers change prices or
marketers change ads rapidly, said Steve Carpenter, CEO
of closely held MediaCart.
About 80% of MediaCart features will work without using
individual consumer data, Mr. Carpenter said. That could
overcome a sticking point not only for privacy
advocates, with whom he said MediaCart has been in
contact, but also for such retail giants as Wal-Mart
Stores, Target and Walgreens, which don't have loyalty
But the company concedes that at retailers with loyalty
programs, shoppers will probably have to swipe their ID
cards to benefit from promotional offers or special
features such as downloading shopping lists from their
computers or uploading recipes from the carts to their
Regardless of whether MediaCart grows into a substantial
marketing medium, its potential as a media-measurement
tool could give it some added life. The system addresses
some of the research and measurement quandaries Nielsen
Media's Nielsen Connect unit identified in December as
it took over the work of the industry's Pioneering
Research for an In-Store Metric (PRISM) consortium, Mr.
MediaCart tracks and analyzes how many shoppers stay in
the presence of in-store ads and for how long. And
because each cart includes a scanner, the system can
measure the sales impact of ads in real time at the
point of purchase; it includes both ads displayed on the
cart screen and ads from other in-store media.
Because shoppers scan each item they put into the carts,
the devices also enable rapid self-checkout -- and
staffing efficiencies -- for retailers, Mr. Carpenter
Ultimately, in the tradition of in-store marketing,
suppliers would foot the bill for most of this should
MediaCart roll out broadly. MediaCart isn't offering
details on cost, but Mr. Kramer said pricing would be on
a CPM basis, like conventional media, only with
measurement data akin to that offered by online-search
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