SHELF-SPOTTING IN THE SOUTHWEST

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A weekend sampling of stores in this sun-dappled city found that area Wal-Marts still use conventional 25- or 27-inch monitors to broadcast its Wal-Mart Network. However, digital menu-board signs are installed in at a least one McDonald's. Smaller, digitally controlled flat panels are cropping up in hotels and banks.Arizona's second city is a fine laboratory for supermarket watchers.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A weekend sampling of stores in this sun-dappled city found that area Wal-Marts still use conventional 25- or 27-inch monitors to broadcast its Wal-Mart Network. However, digital menu-board signs are installed in at a least one McDonald's. Smaller, digitally controlled flat panels are cropping up in hotels and banks.

Arizona's second city is a fine laboratory for supermarket watchers. Safeway, Albertsons, Wal-Mart supercenters, Kroger's Fry's division and locally owned Bashas' compete for share-of-pantry in this market of nearly one million people. An inspection of local chains reveals a spectrum of at-shelf promotions and advertising vehicles. These range from floor graphics to overhead signs.

Wal-Mart strictly controls its in-store media environment. Except for Wal-Mart video monitors and the merchandise, there are no other visible places where brand marketers post promotional messages in store.

Floor graphics are ubiquitous at local Safeway's, Fry's and Albertsons units. Most prominent was a four-foot-wide floor graphic at Safeway for Ken's salad dressings, positioned like a skirt below a shelf display. At a nearby Albertsons, graphics for Kraft/Nabisco's Ritz crackers formed a small constellation in the cracker aisle, amplified by shelf signs.

With "clean shelf" rules increasingly enforced, access to the shelf edge is more controlled than ever. Retailers are reserving most of this key real estate for their own promotions. In the antacid section of an Albertsons' health and beauty care aisle, numerous yellow tags dangled, signaling special prices. Larger shelf-talkers for anti-heartburn drugs Prilosec and Prevacid vied head-to-head for attention.

Cross merchandising in the center of the store is rare enough to be notable. In one Safeway cracker section, Athenos used a shelf sign to cross merchandise its hummus varieties, which are located several aisles away in the refrigerated case. A few rows down, Georgia-Pacific promoted its Vanity Fair napkins using a novel shelf-talker mounted near the tinned coffee. While it was designed to resemble a SmartSource shelf sign, it was actually printed on sheet plastic substrate.

Shelf signs are getting larger and showing up in clusters. Rogaine doubled up on its SmartSource promotions by using a shelf ad above and an Instant Coupon Machine below in an Albertsons/Osco. Two feet away, a three-shelf-tall banner that questioned what our shampoo was missing delineated the dandruff shampoos. Tall banners were in evidence elsewhere at Albertsons, promoting store-brand and national-brand personal care items. In one location, a pair of Claritin aisle banners framed the possibilities for allergy sufferers.

Meanwhile, SmartSource is delivering extra real estate by printing shelf ads on stiff, plastic substrate material that extends for several inches around its frame. In fact, as installations for Lamasil foot cream at Albertsons and Electrasol dishwasher detergent at Safeway made abundantly clear, nobody seems to be staying within the frame anymore.