Why Retail Media Is at an Inflection Point

by | Apr 23, 2024

It was no surprise to attendees of the POSSIBLE conference in Miami that retail media networks (RMNs) were going to be one of the hottest topics at the event. Walmart Connect, Target’s Roundel network, Albertsons Media Collective, Instacart, and CVS Media Exchange were all partners and sponsors. Panels about loyalty programs, data clean rooms, and e-commerce dotted the packed agenda. 

But at a panel hosted by Infillion and moderated by CRO and CMO Laurel Rossi, a set of leaders from the retail media, CPG, and agency worlds agreed that retail media grew so quickly that it’s now imperative to set it up for long-term stability.

“It’s vast and confusing, to a degree, from the agency side because there are so many different partners with different data sets that we can source from,” said Dave Kersey, chief media officer of GSD&M. “We’re mining through all the various retail media networks trying to figure out what are the right data sets, how can we leverage them, [and] can we overlay them onto each other.” For GSD&M, an Omnicom agency, one current challenge is figuring out how to build retail media data into the holding company’s broader tech stacks.

From the CPG side, there’s a different challenge. “I don’t think we know how to media plan. That’s not a knock on agencies, that’s not a knock on anybody,” said Vinny Rinaldi, head of media and analytics at The Hershey Company. “Somebody who goes to Walmart.com or their app, or Kroger or Albertsons – regardless [of retailer], that is a reach point, that is part of their journey. How do you build that into holistic planning?”

The panel agreed that retail media marketing for CPGs is currently too split between pure brand awareness and sales-driving, lower-funnel efforts with very little in between. “A lot of companies are focused on sales for tomorrow – so anything that will drive sales quickest, even if that’s not best for the long term,” Kersey said. A CPG needs to “ensure that you’re driving brand awareness that is ultimately converting at a more efficient rate downstream.”

 

Looking at two possible solutions: CTV and generative AI

One company that’s rocketed to the forefront of retail media innovation has been Albertsons Media Collective – a remarkable feat for a nearly century-old grocery store brand. Representing the company on this panel was Evan Hovorka, VP of product and innovation. He said that connected TV is one of the most promising channels for retail media because, unlike linear TV where CPGs’ brand-building ads historically ran, the CTV “pipes” can be connected directly to a retailer’s owned and operated marketing channels.

“Now we’ve got authentic CRM data at the point of ad distribution, the streaming service; and at the point of audience creation, the RMN,” Hovorka explained. “Let’s tie all that together. That is the pinnacle moment for how agencies are best served to help CPG.”

Jatinder Singh, global head of data and AI at Accenture Song, echoed the problem of retail media’s distant two pillars of “brand and demand,” and said that while generative AI technology is frequently talked about as a solution to the two, it’s rarely placed in action. “90% of the C-suite are saying that they expect generative AI to revolutionize their retail media network,” Singh said. “However, research we’ve done shows that only 25% of them are actually doing so.”

Leaders in retail media are beginning to recognize that all the talk of AI to fill gaps in the customer journey needs to be accompanied by real action, especially since there are now so many retail media networks that it can be a tangle of data and touchpoints for marketers.

“The non-standardization that’s created because we’ve become so bifurcated is why you’re seeing everyone say we need to consolidate again,” Rinaldi said. “Everyone acts like there’s an infinite amount of times to convert someone to buy something, and there’s not. If you don’t think about that from a standard media principle or practice…it’s why we’ve become so messy.”

Or, as Infillion’s Laurel Rossi said, “It’s not all about media. Supply matters.”

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