The rise of the shopper

Pink Key Licensing’s Richard Pink on why getting the elusive ‘Shopper Marketing’ strategy right is key.

You know what – people buy things!

Now that may not come as surprise to you being a licensing industry aficionado as you are – but by god it seemed to come as surprise to the promotional industry a few years ago.

Outside of the licensing industry I have for many years been associated with the promotions industry, either in developing education courses or latterly running awards programmes. This led me a few years ago to be part of a group of people who tried to construct a definition of what was being called ‘Shopper Marketing’.

A few years on and I still don’t think there is an agreed definition. However, I think it’s something that the licensing industry has understood much better instinctively than most other groups.

Anyone who has been in a group discussion about marketing at one time or another ends up talking about the consumer:

  • Who is the consumer
  • What do they want
  • What do they need
  • What is the consumer insight


Normally, this is followed by someone saying ‘Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes’ or, my personal favourite, ‘Let’s put it in the cat’s bowl and see what comes to lick it’ (I kid you not…)

But what these questions fundamentally miss, and what Shopper Marketing addresses, is something the gift industry has always known – that the person who buys something and the person who consumes it are often not the same person.

It seems obvious when you say it – but if you talk to many promotional, integrated, through the line, experiential, full service marketing agencies (there are so many names), they still struggle to understand what Shopper Marketing really is.

Talk to a lot of people (even in the marketing industry) and people will still tell you that Shopper Marketing takes place in-store and is fundamentally just another name for Point of Sale. While this is true for some things, it’s fundamentally flawed because it assumes that every purchase is an impulse purchase. You don’t need a marketing degree to know that’s not true – think about how long it takes to make up your mind about a car.

So why is it important? It’s because in a lot of discussions, the person who is actually buying the product sometimes gets forgotten and this is crucial error.  I’m as guilty as the next man of doing this (and I’ve been looking at Shopper Marketing as a concept for years!).

Consider this from the Pink Key stable –

Q. Why is it that a pencil case shaped like a can of Pringles would be the best selling pencil case in Rymans for back to school?

Pringles marketing is all about millenials, music, sport and parties isn’t it?

A: It’s because we forget that the main shopper of Pringles are mums – and mums think the pencil case is quite a fun gift to cheer their kids up before they start back to school.

Yes I know – easy when you know isn’t it!

Richard Pink is md of Pink Key Licensing and is the chair of the judging panel for the Best Licensed Marketing Communication Campaign award at The Licensing Awards. He can be contacted on

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