Kroger Spins a New Tune

Retailer looks to broadcast branding message, find new revenues in Vibenomics deal
Photograph courtesy of Kroger Co.

Things may sound a little different at Kroger stores soon.

The Cincinnati-based retailer later this month is turning over control of its in-store audio—including its music selections and advertising—to a new vendor, Vibenomics, which said its goal is to “enrich the customer experience” at 2,300 stores serving 11 million daily visitors.

The Vibenomics-Kroger deal, announced this week, will go into effect July 20 and will succeed an expiring partnership, said to be with InStore Audio, Princeton, N.J. Vibenomics, based in Indianapolis, said it would work with Kroger and its 84.51 data subsidiary to deliver entertainment and targeted ads to shoppers. Vibenomics said it promises advertisers an automated buying process, allowing them to strategically target customers at the right moment, depending on weather, local events and more.

In an interview with WGB, Paul Brenner, Vibenomics’ president of audio out of home, said the deal would support Kroger’s stated intentions to generate new streams of high-margin revenue by leveraging its shopper data to brands and partners. “It’s a straight revenue share,” Brenner explained. “We build the tech, we install the tech, we support the tech, and then we also sell it. We collaborate clearly with 84.51 on measurement and strategy.”

Energetic and Animated

What a customer hears as they shop in a Kroger store—from the songs on the playlist to the dialect and language used by on-air ad readers—will be curated by location and aims to reflect what Brenner described as “the sound of the brand.”

It’s trickier than it might first look. Keeping advertisers happy, shoppers engaged and ready to buy, and the brand supported all in the space and time of a single supermarket visit is a bit of a scientific balancing act, Brenner said. Not to mention a playlist that’s at once familiar but not too cliche, and also interesting enough to keep employees on long shifts from going crazy.

Speaking in general terms, Brenner said Kroger has indicated it wants an “energetic, animated and never too mellow” soundtrack to accompany shoppers on their trips, recounting a brainstorming session where Imagine Dragons’ 2013 single “On Top of the World” was among inspirations for Vibenomics’ music theorists. Typically, he added, selections are fluid and can be influenced by seasons, geographies and other factors, even the time of day and foot traffic at given times in stores.

“It really is whatever engages people, gets their attention and just makes them feel a little bit energized,” Brenner said. “It’s about confirming that we’re engaged, because without that, the results for the advertiser are not going to be as good. I think that’s the legacy we’re trying to overcome; make it engaging, make it fun, but then automate it, digitize it and give it something the advertiser can get a better result from.”

Ad impressions and their value are similarly influenced by traffic in stores and average visit times, he noted, which the company tracks with the help of a technology partner that gauges those metrics via cellphone signals.

“We look at average dwell times, and then we build the clock of how many songs, how many messages and the sequence they are going to play to match the average time that a person is in that location,” he said. “That’s about 18 minutes average for a grocery chain. Then we would say, well, we don’t want to play any more than two three-and-a-half-minute songs, and then do 30 seconds of messages, and then back to two songs. We want to exposure to begin for the advertiser, but we also want people to not tune it out with a bad experience.”

‘More Meaningful Content’

Brenner said talks with Kroger on a new in-store audio deal began about a year ago. “They were just looking for any company, whether it was startup or just innovators, that could fit into the different silos of what they were trying to accomplish. And we just fit the mold on the audio side; they were looking for a programmatic [solution], they were looking for innovation and they were looking for a fresh, new way to sell it. They wanted data integrity and measurement—all the things that we have been doing for other companies, and we just connected.”

Vibenomics will be working in tandem with Kroger to determine which categories of advertisers, brands or specific products make sense to promote on its airwaves while giving thoughtful consideration to the type of shopper experience they strive to deliver.

“Our associates and customers are our No. 1 priority at Kroger, and this is a new way for us to reach them with more meaningful content,” said Cara Pratt, VP of commercial and product strategy across Kroger’s digital and in-store media business at 84.51. “It allows us to provide them with up to date and timely information on their favorite brands, helping to improve their shopping experience. It also allows our brand partners to reach customers at a pivotal point in the buying process—the shelf.”


More from our partners