Customers Choose Real Over Fake

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How Stop & Shop ditched traditional ads by bringing real customers into the spotlight.

I just googled “Why do people hate ads?”

I’m not against advertising per se. It’s just feels a bit absurd, sometimes. Actors pretending to be customers. Way too much smiling, and everything seems too perfect. Compare TV ads to Instagram stories, where everything feels so raw and genuine and full of life — people sharing the things they do, eat, say, and think. Advertising feels fake by comparison – and as such, outdated.

So, back to my Google search: Studies say we all hate ads. We ignore, block, and mock them. What we really want is a conversation. It’s hard to disagree with any of that. We’re human, after all. Conversation is what we do. The best conversations aren’t one-sided. But most ads are. That’s the problem.

Stop & Shop, a neighborhood grocery store that’s been around for more than a century, had this feeling, too. It’s why they made the decision to hire a customer agency as their advertising agency of record. This choice meant departing from traditional ad campaigns involving scripts, sets and actors and towards documentary-style ads featuring real customers, informed by an “empathy engine,” a community of several hundred Stop & Shop customers available 24/7 to offer real opinions and insight. The new ads provide an authentic glimpse into the lives of real shoppers as they go about their busy, everyday routines.

Here’s a quick look at what went through our minds at C Space, and the minds of the Stop & Shop team, as we endeavored together to bring a heavy dose of genuine authenticity to their latest customer engagement efforts.

Franco Bonadio C Space: What was the goal for the “You Got It” campaign?

Whitney Hardy, SVP and CMO, Stop & Shop: Intentionally designed to embrace the reality of customers’ busy lives as they juggle kids, work and everything in-between, this campaign offers a genuine look at how Stop & Shop helps families get it all done so they can spend more time with each other, which, let’s be honest, is what it’s all about. Connecting with the people we care about. Funny enough, it’s the same thing we wanted to do: connect directly with our customers in a meaningful way and to let them know that we both understand and care about their needs and responsibilities.

Bonadio: Why partner directly with your customers to advertise to them, as opposed to advertising at them? What’s the advantage?

Hardy: We want our messaging to resonate, and if you ask just about any brand they’ll say the very same. But we took things one step further, seeking to resonate in a deeper way by featuring our very own customers—and giving them “starring” roles in our ads. A novel approach, right? But maybe it shouldn’t be. Our thinking was this: When they watch or listen to our ads, they will see themselves, their friends, their neighbors, their colleagues, and that’s a great thing. That’s what we mean by advertising with them, instead of at them.

Bonadio: We developed a tool known as the “empathy engine,” which was used to inform the campaign, and included the input and insights from an online community of several hundred Stop & Shop customers. How did this kind of data impact the “You Got It” campaign—from its look, to its feel?

Hardy: These opinions really helped us understand what our customers are thinking about, even concerned about, from day-to-day, so that we could better strategize and reach them in the ways they need us to. Our customers have always been at the core of our business, and they’re currently at the core of the change that we’re planning for Stop & Shop. Everything we’re doing from our creative to new in-store features and customer experience is about delivering our promise—to make things easier for our customers so that they can enjoy what matters most—their loved ones.

Bonadio: It all boils down to customer service these days, which will truthfully make or break a brand, a service or a campaign. How are you taking these insights and further using them to set the future for Stop & Shop?

Hardy: We’re committed to reshaping our entire shopping experience around our customers and the insights we’ve gained to date. So, there’s no part of our business which won’t have been touched by these insights and opinions. Pretty powerful stuff!

Stop & Shop’s new campaign launched on TV, radio, online video and out-of-home on October 5 in Connecticut, and on October 8 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.

Franco Bonadio

Franco is the Chief Creative Officer at C Space, where he is helping to drive a more progressive, human, customer-inspired version of change for the world’s best brands.

Prior to C Space, Franco was Global Creative Officer at The Body Shop, CEO of Identica Design and Managing Creative Director of The Brand Union.

At C Space Franco leads creative teams across the network to activate the customer in the businesses of C Space’s 200 clients.

Using film, interactive and experiential spaces he and the team create powerful human stories to help communicate a better understanding of consumers – who they are, what they like, dislike and what they really think about the world – to create a movement of change around the customer within business.

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