Cooler Screens Founder and CEO Arsen Avakian on In-Person Networking
In-store digital media company Cooler Screens – the company behind the technology to put ads on screens for refrigerator doors at retailers like Walgreens and grocers like Kroger – has grown its footprint since the beginning of the pandemic. The company now has some 10,000 screens on cooler doors at 750 outlets which together generate more than 77 million views per month. This increased footprint has made Arsen Avakian, Founder and CEO of Cooler Screens, more confident in presenting the product to advertisers during its first advertising week, which runs October 18-21 in New York City and Switzerland. line.
Digiday caught up with Avakian to find out how the company is approaching the hybrid festival as well as the return of in-person networking, retail media and supply chain issues plaguing businesses today.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Advertising Week is one of the first major industry events to host a hybrid in-person and virtual event. What do you think of the return of in-person networking?
I just returned from the DPAA show last week. I was pleasantly surprised. It was the first advertising industry trade show I attended after COVID. I didn’t know what to expect but there was a room full of people who seemed comfortable. I think there is a pent-up need to [in-person] exchange of ideas, relationship building. They were very strict on proof of vaccination. They took a very black and white approach that if you wanted to be in person you had to show proof of vaccination.
Has the pandemic changed the way people perceive Cooler Screens or has it changed your pitch for Cooler Screens to advertisers?
People have realized how much retail matters. Even if e-commerce was initially the actor to “save the day” [when the pandemic began], people look back and realize that if it hadn’t been for places like Walmart and Kroger, they wouldn’t have survived COVID. This dispelled the myth that brick and mortar were dead. It’s alive and thrilling. When it’s coupled with others [advertising] trends of the past 18 months – privacy regulations, the death of the third-party cookie – people have realized that retail media really is the next big thing.
Retail media, the first definition was all around Amazon, now ecommerce marketing has morphed and evolved into something much bigger with the store and the dot com being together as one. We think we need to take a leadership position to help define what retail media is – we’ve talked to people about IAB and they see it as e-commerce only; we talked to people about DPAA and they only think about the traditional OOH world and they don’t think about the dynamics of the store. With confidentiality rules and cookieless [future], brands are now trying to figure out how they connect securely with real people, so I think some [traditional] advertising concepts that make retail media even more valuable will come back.
How? ‘Or’ What?
When you connect with buyers in stores, you connect with real people – you no longer have to worry about whether the ad showed up in front of real people or bots. The reliability of traditional internet marketing has been questioned from a security standpoint, from a verification standpoint, from an engagement standpoint. These problems in a physical retail media store world are gone. People buy things and want to engage with brands. This is generating significant enthusiasm for the future of contextual targeting versus targeting based on individual identity. There is no better context than to be in a moment of shopping when making these decisions. The content, commerce and context trio is very powerful and defines the retail media of the future.
Considering the supply chain issues that many brands face, how do you think this will impact Cooler Screens?
We have sensor technology to monitor shelf stock to help our brand partners. Many brand partners say they don’t want to advertise when their product isn’t always on the shelf. They don’t want empty impressions or wasting money [on something that’s out of stock]. If you have a product on the shelf, you are advertising. If you don’t, you can save your money. Or you can change the messaging to be more brand [building] versus [product-oriented]. These brands are really stressed out today with their supply chain issues and advertising platforms, the industry should help these companies solve these issues.