In a tried-and-true genre of disaster movies, there's a dramatic moment when an asteroid is plummeting toward Earth. Amidst a flurry of intense activity and heroics, the asteroid is redirected at the last possible moment... and tragedy is averted. All is saved.

I've always had the same question about this scenario: Shouldn't the scientists be working sooner to change the asteroid's trajectory—like when it is way out by Neptune? After all, that's when little changes can make a big difference in the end.

I think of the relationship between advertising and shopper marketing in terms of that B-movie analogy.

Advertising helps direct shoppers toward a brand selection long before entering the store; then shopper marketing takes over at the point of arrival. And it's the calibration and balance between advertising and in-store marketing that are essential to success in the retail environment.

The Emergence of Shopper Marketing

It's often said that shopper marketing does its work in the "last three-feet of the sale." This "first moment of truth," as Procter & Gamble's CEO and President A.G. Lafley termed it, is the decision-making point when a shopper selects a brand for the person who will consume it.

In the current economy, there is an emerging, albeit regrettable belief that if shopper marketing is done correctly, advertising may not be needed as much, if at all. So how have some marketers found themselves fixated on shopper marketing?

Shopper marketing has risen in prominence in recent years due largely to Wal-Mart, which ignited a trend years ago that has spread across the face of retailing. Among product marketers, Wal-Mart commands tremendous respect with roughly 1 of every 13 retail dollars passing through one of its US divisions. Getting a product on Wal-Mart's shelves has been heralded as both a triumph and a challenge due to the tough negotiators in Bentonville who can make even the most seasoned product managers reach for the antacids.

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Mitch McCasland ( is director of insight and brand strategy at Moroch Partners ( and a leading advocate of using customer insights and competitive intelligence as a basis for brand strategy, advertising, and new product design.