Giant Eagle gets ready to trot out new ad campaign

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For four long nights in late August, the Giant Eagle store in Pine became the set for a commercial shoot as lights and camera equipment blocked access to the pineapples and the boneless center cut pork chops while ad agency staff talked the "talent" through take after take after take.

"I've been a butcher at Giant Eagle for 15 years," said Andre Rodgers, his hands shoved into his pockets as he gazed into the camera.

While he looked comfortable in his spotless white butcher's jacket and apron, the bright lights were draining. A director kept asking about things he was proud of, and then the two men would agree on how to say that for the commercial.

Mr. Rodgers valiantly delivered the message -- again and again. "Fresh meat makes a big difference." "We cut it fresh every day." "We cut it fresh seven times daily." "That's why I grind the beef fresh seven times a day."

The new ad campaign is scheduled to break Thursday -- along with a new tagline for the O'Hara grocer: "That's my Giant Eagle Advantage."

While the latest tagline is not exactly meant to refer to the grocer's loyalty card, known as the Advantage card, the connection doesn't hurt as far as officials are concerned.

The campaign -- being done with the grocer's ad agency of two years, Young & Rubicam in Chicago -- is meant to help Giant Eagle use every tool in its cart to fend off retailers with discount niches or specialties such as natural foods.

Nationally, conventional supermarket market share has dropped from 11.2 percent to 8.3 percent in the past five years, according to the Food Marketing Institute. Supercenters, meanwhile, grew from 13.6 percent to 20.7 percent. Organic/natural grocers added market share as did the limited assortment discount store category.

Giant Eagle officials declined to release the budget for the new campaign, but the grocer spent about $15.5 million last year on a mix of TV, billboard, radio, magazine and coupon fliers, according to The Nielsen Co.

The marketplace is very different from 2001 when Giant Eagle rolled out its "Make every day taste better" line that offered a quality promise. That slogan had replaced a convenience-focused "It takes a giant to make life simple" tag line used for years.

While the newest campaign is seen as the latest major marketing shift for the grocer, Giant Eagle did do a message tweak a year ago as the recession hit hard. The grocer rolled out price cuts and promoted programs such as free antibiotics along with the line: "low prices, uncompromising quality."

Customers mainly wanted to talk value, so that was appropriate, recalled Lisa Henriksen, vice president, marketing and own brands and new business development.

Yet the value marketing didn't leave room to talk about what makes the chain different from Wal-Mart or Aldi or Whole Foods Markets, all of which continue to open new locations in this region and in the grocer's other markets.

The new Giant Eagle message makes the case there's no need to choose between low prices and high quality. "You're not in a world where you need to compromise," said Ms. Henriksen.

The new slogan will be used to tout prices, selection and quality, while also allowing each listener to put his own personal spin on it.

Forget corporate Giant Eagle with $8.6 billion in annual sales. For shoppers, it's about the stores in their neighborhoods. As focus groups held in the past year told company officials, each customer has a distinct relationship with a particular grocery store.

Among the different reasons that participants gave for choosing Giant Eagle were gas discounts, fresh produce and those nice cashiers who remember their names. One guy shared a passion for the bakery's buttercream frosting -- that won't make the first round of ads.

Five TV spots focus on the pharmacy, produce and meat departments, as well as gas discounts and customers' personal systems for saving money. The commercials star employees, like Mr. Rodgers, and customers who use double coupons or earn free tanks of gas.

In another change from past campaigns, the marketing team is coordinating the images and themes to be consistent whether seen on TV, in newspaper ads or through online outlets such as Facebook or Twitter. Video was shot for the Web as the crew worked on TV commercials.

Meanwhile, the staff at the Pine store tried to keep late night business as usual going.

On one of the late night shoots, rows of directors chairs blocked the aisle by the meat counter as members of the ad agency's crew and Giant Eagle's marketing team listened intently through headsets to the tired but determined Mr. Rodgers.

Some customers kept shopping, cell phones pressed to their ears. Others were confused by the fuss, which happened to coincide with the filming of a couple of Hollywood movies around the region.

"We've actually had some people stop by asking if Taylor Lautner was here," said Robert Baker, senior director of advertising.

Teresa F. Lindeman: or 412-263-2018.


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