Hard sell in the grocery aisle

Observations on advertising

Big Brother is watching you. Or rather, trying to pitch consumer goods at you. As of June, you will be able to walk into your local Tesco and find 24/7 television beaming advice, news and advertorial promotions in every supermarket aisle. Walk down the beauty products aisle and the screen above will give tips on how to apply make-up and cleanse your face; in the nappy aisle, you will learn how to get your baby to sleep and how to relieve his teething pains; in the alcohol section, you will learn about the best grapes of the season.

Tesco executives say that, by this summer, 100 of their supermarkets will have flat-top televisions, with between 40 and 50 screens per store or roughly one per aisle. With the help of satellites, "Tesco TV" will be updated every five to 60 minutes.

The venture is the culmination of a ten- month trial, during which the supermarket chain filmed the shopping patterns of hundreds of volunteers. Tesco worked out, for instance, that "dwell-time" in the grocery section, the most common destination during a shopping trip, is at least five minutes. For advertisers, those five minutes represent a golden marketing opportunity, for which they are ready to spend big money. A ten-second spot for two weeks in the grocery section costs £50,000 - the equivalent of a full-page colour spread in a leading daily newspaper or a peak-time spot on TV. In the beers, wines and spirits section, where "dwell-time" is 2.3 minutes, the cost is £40,000. No wonder that other big stores, such as Sainsbury and Boots, seem poised to follow.