By Sara Cobaugh
Agency: McKinney
Client: Meijer
Category: 2013

This year I learned the valuable lesson that most retail advertising is not sexy. There was nothing glamorous about this particular assignment, no budget for digital pyrotechnics or celebrity endorsements, and the work would only be seen in five states. Our team was tasked with developing a campaign about low prices for the midwestern supercenter chain, Meijer. The client wasn’t expecting any surprises, the creative team saw zero challenge in the assignment, and the account lead said something like, “We probably don’t even need a planner on this one.”

It was my job to prove them wrong.

LOW PRICE WARS Despite being the pioneer of the one-stop shop, Meijer was missing a large share of the basket due to shoppers cherry-picking deals around town. For a family of five, living through a tough economy in suburban Michigan, saving a few bucks sometimes means buying store brand shampoo at Wal-Mart or spaghetti sauce at the Dollar Tree. We needed to convince these customers that they can save just as much by doing all of their shopping at Meijer... A tough task when 75% of Meijer shoppers comb through a stack of Sunday circulars to plan their shopping trips each week, considering multiple stores in search of the best savings. With drugstores, dollar stores, traditional grocery retailers, and other mass merchandisers all claiming to have the lowest prices, Meijer became trapped in a shouting match with a desperate need to differentiate.

THE WAL-MART EFFECT Not only did we have to confront the belief that it saves to shop around, but we also had to defend ourselves against Wal-Mart’s low-price domination. Share of voice in this category has long been controlled by Wal-Mart, and because of their scale and supply chain advantages, not many retailers – especially a family-owned midwestern chain – can compete with their everyday low prices. Adding salt to the wound, Wal-Mart had recently launched a new communication strategy: they purchased local TV buys in 60 markets to run direct price-comparison ads against local retailers. It was a deliberate attack on regional chains, like Meijer, to surrender their low price claims. But while Wal-Mart had built a strong reputation on low prices, they also inadvertently developed a reputation for a sub-par shopping experience.

SAVINGS WITHOUT SACRIFICE Quant studies and anecdotes from shoppers reinforced the notion that saving money at Wal-Mart often comes at the cost of enduring long checkout lines, poor quality merchandise, and disappointing customer service. In our research we continued to dig into this persistent tension between the desire to save money and the compromises we make for those savings. What we learned: people say they need low prices, but what they really want is less stress and fewer sacrifices. During shop-alongs and interviews with our target, we uncovered the “3-Stop Rule.” For moms running errands with their kids in tow, there’s a limit on how many times the kids can put up with getting in and out of the car seat, before having a meltdown. For these time-starved-toddler-toting parents, shopping around for deals tended to result in more misery than money-saved. In order to differentiate from Wal-Mart and attack the perception that it saves to shop around, we needed to present Meijer as the solution where shoppers could save without sacrifice.

THE STRATEGY To pay off the promise of savings without sacrifice, we needed to show rational proof for an emotional problem. In other words, we needed to educate customers on the savings they could find within the store, and give them a reason to believe that these savings were great enough to keep them from driving all over town or compromising their shopping experience at Wal-Mart.

What Meijer had to offer were three ways shoppers can save across the entire store: • Low Meijer prices already on the shelf • Weekly specials like BOGO and Ten for $10 deals • And mPerks personalized digital coupons

Combine all three and the savings can really add up – often exceeding the sale prices at other stores. And with everything under one roof at Meijer– the one-stop shop means time saved as well.

Our strategic approach was to communicate this simple equation and prove to our customers that at Meijer, the math always works in your favor.

THE SOLUTION The creative team gravitated to the idea of savings that add up and developed the concept of “Meijer Math.” Meijer Math gave us a platform to talk about low prices in a way that Wal-Mart can’t, and directly confronted the misperception that it saves to shop around. We were able to clearly explain the details of saving at Meijer, without blending in with the typical low price messaging in the category. With a distinct visual look and a simple equation, we communicated that when you combine low Meijer prices with weekly specials and mPerks digital coupons, the savings really add up.

A dedicated landing page,, demonstrated each of the components of Meijer Math 101, and directed visitors to check out the weekly ad and sign up for mPerks. Outdoor billboards were designed to reach those in the midst of running errands to emphasize the message that shopping around doesn’t always save. In addition to TV, radio, and digital display, we worked with Meijer to produce a consistent look & feel for their print circular and in-store signage.

We also collaborated with Meijer’s PR agency to develop a social component for Facebook, known as the “Meijer Mathletes” contest. Fans were invited to share stories about how Meijer Math helped them save. Winning submissions were featured on the page, and winners also received a Meijer Mathletes T-shirt. The stories that were submitted further served as proof that you don’t need to drive all over town just to save.

THE NUMBER CRUNCHING In just 4 weeks after the launch of Meijer Math, the Meijer Mathletes contest attracted over 11,000 submissions from satisfied savers, resulting in over 295,000 Facebook impressions. Around the time of the launch, mPerks sign-ups skyrocketed – surpassing 1 million members and is continuing to grow.

The best measure of our success: we took a boring assignment for an ad about low prices and turned it into a new conversation about savings. As a result, the brand has now established Meijer Math as the new vernacular for all price-related retail messaging. Even if you’re not a math person, Meijer Math makes sense.

S. Cobaugh McKinney