PARKER TO EXPAND IN-STORE AD MEDIUM

TAMPA, Fla. -- Brand marketers are about to gain wider access to an in-store advertising medium that is part static sign and part advanced digital communications.Parker Communications Systems, a 3-year-old company that has been quietly working the bugs out of its system in Delchamps supermarkets, says it expects to sign deals this month to install its video monitors in the aisles of at least two more

TAMPA, Fla. -- Brand marketers are about to gain wider access to an in-store advertising medium that is part static sign and part advanced digital communications.

Parker Communications Systems, a 3-year-old company that has been quietly working the bugs out of its system in Delchamps supermarkets, says it expects to sign deals this month to install its video monitors in the aisles of at least two more "major" supermarket chains.

"And we are still looking to select three to four more for 1994," said Joe Busch, vice president of sales and marketing for Parker, based here. He declined to name the retailers pending completion of the agreements.

Over the past 18 months, 50 Delchamps supermarkets in the New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., areas have been the proving ground for Parker's system, which may be best described as a slide show on video. Nicknamed WDEL by the folks at Delchamps, the system deploys about 20 27-inch video monitors per store that are linked by in-store computers and rooftop satellite dishes to a central production center at Parker's Tampa headquarters.

Parker splits the advertising revenue with the host retailer, Busch explained. And once the system is installed, the chain gains access to a private satellite distribution system it can use to distribute training videos or other messages to stores.

The ad programming is simple: A 15-minute cycle of still-frame images, five seconds each, showing products and their promotional prices. No news. No entertainment. No audio.

In Delchamps stores, where the hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week, images from advertisers such as Coca-Cola, Hormel, General Mills, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark appear a minimum of 475 times per week per monitor, or 9,500 times per store, coordinated with other brand promotional activity such as features, demos or displays. "It is integrated marketing," said Scott Riley, chief operating officer of Parker. "That's where others have missed the boat."

Riley continued, "The key to the future is more specific targeted marketing. The days of national advertising with generic messages are gone. You need to be targeted to each store, each price zone. [Parker] is able to be store-specific, on both price and products."

Added Riley, "This is a point-of-sale sign. All we have come up with is a sophisticated distribution method."

Advertiser cost for a weeklong flight of 9,500 spots, including production, ranges from $35 to $50 per store. With a reach of 400,000, or "48% of grocery shoppers in Mobile," each week, "that works out to less than 90 cents per thousand," said Busch. By comparison, network television costs average $5 per thousand viewers.

He added, "The Mobile newspaper has readership of 132,000. We deliver three times the reach. The top-rated TV show delivers about 80,000 people."

With at least two supermarket signings imminent, Busch said Parker's goal for 1994 is to sign up "four to five good chains to duplicate what we have done with Delchamps, and get us to a level of 250 sites." An additional 250 to 500 sites should become available within those chains in 1995, he estimated.

"If they can attract ad dollars and not steal from local marketing money, that would help us a lot," said one broker who has had experience with the system in the Mobile market.

Wayne LoCurto, president of Actmedia, Norwalk, Conn., one of the few profitable in-store advertising firms, said his experience indicated "the retailer won't accept an in-store medium if it is trade dollars. It must be national dollars."

Busch said Parker is well aware that its system, like any in-store medium, will not be accepted by retailers if it siphons away trade dollars. "We will not accept trade promotion dollars or co-op funds. This is over and above, like a national media buy," said Busch.

But those intentions may not always be realized in practice. According to Kevin McLeod, account manager for Coca-Cola USA, who acts as liaison for the three bottlers that deal with Delchamps in the Mobile and New Orleans markets, "With us it is moving the money around -- trade dollars. We spend the same on a cents-per-case basis for each chain."