In-store advertising has retailers, suppliers and consumers taking note.

Not that long ago, an in-store promotion meant a cardboard secondary display or maybe an end cap topped with a large sign. But that was just the beginning.

Today, there are coupon dispensers, shopping cart signs, brochure displays, shelf talkers, floor decals, motion-activated systems and in-store radio and TV networks.

Even before they get to the market, consumers may be exposed to Web-based promotions as well as traditional circulars, newspaper ads, radio and television commercials and, increasingly, cable TV ads.

Although traditional advertising still will command the bulk of the ad dollars — almost $200 billion in 2005 — companies in the United States will have spent $18.6 billion on in-store advertising and marketing last year, about $1 billion more than the previous year, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson Partners LLC, a New York investment management company.

“The old ways of reaching consumers through mass-marketing tactics are dead or dying quickly,” says Steve Dickstein, vice president of marketing at Ready Pac Inc., Irwindale, Calif. “A buck spent in-store is far better than a buck spent just about anywhere else.”

Digital innovations

The number of “affordable and effective” options is expanding. Plasma TVs in various store locations, including the checkout area, are the hottest electronic trend, says Stacey Larson, president of Consumer Effects, Sacramento, Calif.

Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. Inc., Coral Gables, Fla., has tried some in-store TV advertising but has not received enough feedback to vouch for its effectiveness, says John Loughridge, vice president of marketing.

Albertson’s Inc., a chain of more than 2,500 stores based in Boise, Idaho, announced last spring that it was installing a new media system with 15-inch flat-panel LCD screens at each checkout lane and 42-inch plasma screens in select areas of the stores. By mid-November, the company had installed the system in about 650 stores, including Jewel-Osco in the Midwest, Shaw’s and Star Markets in New England, and Albertsons in Northern and Southern California and Seattle.

“We plan to continue our expansion of this network to all food stores next year,” says Shannon Bennett, company spokeswoman.

The system offers information on product promotions, special offers and meal ideas in addition to updates on local news and weather.

Screens in the checkout lanes are installed and managed by PRN Corp., San Francisco, and those along the stores’ perimeters are installed and managed by SignStorey Inc., Fairfield, Conn. Both firms provide programming and sell advertising on their networks. Programming includes information and advertising focused on health, home and family.

PRN also is responsible for Wal-Mart’s TV network in more than 2,800 stores.

Wal-Mart invites potential advertisers to its Benton-ville, Ark., headquarters to sell advertising blocks for the coming year, just like major TV networks do. In a September report, PRN says it delivered more than 49,000 impressions per store for the four-week 2005 survey period — a 9 percent increase over 2004. Advertising rates reportedly are similar to cable TV rates.

Real Digital Media, Sarasota, Fla., has an in-store TV system that is best described as an “industrial strength TiVo,” says Ken Goldberg, chief executive officer.

The system works with 42-inch or smaller flat-panel monitors connected through the Internet. The owner can present content in the form of repetitive loops or can play specific segments at specified times throughout the day.

Don’t forget to look down

Even supermarket floors are fair game for ads.

Floorgraphics Inc., Hamilton, N.J., has floor decals (typically 2- by 3-feet) in 7,500 stores in 17 of the top 50 grossing chains in the United States, including the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. Inc., Stater Bros. Markets and Food Lion, says Jayne Mullen-Sampson, vice president of marketing.

A program promoting apples for the Washington State Apple Commission, Wenatchee, resulted in a 7 percent sales increase, Mullen-Sampson says, earning a 2-to-1 return on investment. Some products have enjoyed boosts of up to 48 percent, she says.

Online attractions

Reach consumers using e-mail and Internet blasts.

Offer coupons that normally would run in your newspaper ad, or develop special offers just for Internet users, suggests Ted Haller, executive vice president, media, for the Jordan Group, a retail media buying organization in St. Louis.

“The Internet will be the future, and we’re already getting there,” he says.

The more targeted your message, the more effective it will be, so Haller suggests collecting information from loyalty card data or conducting in-store sign-ups to identify key customers.

Skogen’s Festival Foods, a family-owned group of nine stores based in Onalaska, Wis., boosted visits to its Web site 20 percent in July by offering those who sought recipes from its database of 65,000 recipes a chance to win prizes. As a result, new enrollments more than doubled and the volume of visits to the recipe site tripled, says Nick Arlt, director of public relations and Internet services.

Skogen’s also e-mails its weekly newspaper ad and coupons to those who sign up.

Changing traditions

Many supermarkets have transitioned from traditional newspaper ads to circulars that can be targeted to specific neighborhoods and can have twice the reach of newspapers, Haller says.

The skyrocketing number of cable TV outlets has fragmented the TV audience so that a rating that is considered huge today was only average 20 or 30 years ago, he says. Retailers can buy ads on cable, but it would take thousands of spots to equal a couple of hundred on regular TV.

Broadcast radio is cheaper than TV and is best as a “call to action,” he says.

Stations can conduct a ratings measurement by ZIP Code and help target your message to a particular demographic.