How Grocers Are Using Social To Elevate Digital Circular Experiences

  • January 7, 2020 at 9:47 AM EST
  • By Adam McGilvray, StitcherAds
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Question: Who goes to the newspaper to check for movie times, or waits for a Christmas catalog in the mail to make their wish list? Sad as it may be to some, these institutions have moved on.

The real question is, why do grocers — our most established and entrenched retailers — continue to put their most important advertising on paper?

Almost all grocers think they have a digital circular, but I like to refer to them as “digitized circulars” because they look just like their print counterparts. You can even simulate flipping their pages through your web browser, just in case you miss that experience. While they are technically “digital,” these too have the same deficiencies as print. They are still designed to cater to everyone within a targeted zip code or city. It’s a mass marketing tactic in a world where consumers are craving personalization.

Innovative grocery teams have started adapting their print circulars into personalized, shoppable ads on Facebook, Instagram and other platforms.


Digital circulars on social platforms have enabled grocers to evolve their creative. As a result, they are saving on rising print costs, being more eco-friendly, driving personalization and connecting with new generations of customers. (It’s worth mentioning that Millennials are now outspending other generations in food purchases.)

So, how are they doing it? Here’s the rundown.

1. Using new and existing assets to elevate creative.

Print circulars only contain so much space — meaning there’s limited room on the coveted front and back pages. Using those pages to attract a wide range of customers is a crucial decision grocer teams face weekly.

The equivalent for digital circulars is the visual you present in the social feed. Like the print cover, this is the crucial piece of creative. If you don’t attract shoppers’ attention here, they won’t tap to see your offers.

With print, there’s obviously no opportunity to include animation or video, unless you count when the pages go flying across your floor when you pick up the paper from the wrong end. This is a big problem because consumers say video is the most memorable form of content. When trying to introduce shoppers to new brands and products, static images are hardly ideal.

With digital circulars, grocery marketers can use their existing assets — combining the print and video marketing they are already producing. We’re seeing grocery retailers effectively bring their brand and value directly to customers’ Facebook and Instagram feeds by featuring social-savvy engaging video posts. One grocer the StitcherAds team worked with used this space to draw attention to its loyalty program. Utilizing the style guidelines of their loyalty program, they enriched the look of their member card with light animation for a thumb-stopping effect.

2. Creating tailored-to-user digital circulars.

An IDC and Precima study released this year discovered that 52% of food shoppers want to receive personalized promotions via digital channels.

This tailored-to-user approach would be incredibly complex and costly to execute via print. Some might have the misconception that it’s challenging to achieve on social, too. But, the TL;DR here is that personalizing content to a wider audience doesn’t mean doing more work.

Digital circulars on Facebook and Instagram automate the process and make it cost-effective to produce at scale. Grocers that work with StitcherAds are doing it by leveraging first- and third-party data as well as Facebook’s behavioral insights. Instead of targeting every consumer in a specific region with one flier, some grocers are creating personalized circulars based on gender, location, age, purchase history and other factors.

For example, a 20-year-old who lives in a dorm room and frequently stops at her local supermarket for snacks, school supplies and mascara will see a digital circular with those items at the forefront. With her thumb, she can navigate her feed quicker than I can blink. She won’t spend time sifting through products she has no use for, like facial shaving cream or baby food.

3. Delivering information in real time.

The last thing a shopper wants is to get excited about a great deal that’s been presented to them, only to arrive at a physical store to discover the product is no longer available at that location. In fact, in the age of Amazon it’s almost unfathomable to most of us.

By incorporating product feeds and local inventory information, grocery retailers have the ability to promote localized offers in real time. And they can do this at scale, across thousands of stores.

Creatively, this enables marketers to run last-minute deals using real-time third-party data such as sporting events or weather. For example, if a heatwave hits the Midwest in late fall, retailers can create visuals and messaging to drive people in-store for ice, fans and cool beverages. Take that climate change.

4. Measuring to build stronger campaigns.

Grocers are finding that digital circulars on Facebook and Instagram have another major advantage over print: This format can be measured more accurately and with more detail. By integrating measurement tools like Facebook’s Store Visits Reporting and Offline Conversions, or working with a third-party measurement partner like Applied Predictive Technologies, marketers can attribute in-store sales to online efforts. Omni-ROAS is a metric you should be getting familiar with. This can even be done down to the product level, which gives marketers the ability to unearth best practices for creative and build even stronger campaigns.

The End Is Near

Sadly, with mounting pressure from e-Commerce competitors, many grocers are afraid to innovate — fearing that stagnant or declining sales will accelerate if they do. Sure, any paradigm shift is scary (that’s why there is spelling bee-worthy term for it), but the truth is they can’t afford not to. Those who are first to adapt will reap the benefits of reaching new customers, reconnecting with lost customers and building loyalty.

The end of print (circulars) is just the beginning.

Adam McGilvray is the VP, Creative Services and Technology at StitcherAds. He has over a decade of experience leading creative teams producing world-class online, video and social advertising experiences. A strong promoter of digital over print, he fondly remembers the magic of the arrival of behemoth Sears Christmas catalogue and his first Commodore 64 computer as a child. While this may date him, his childlike enthusiasm for their modern descendants remains as strong as ever. No books were harmed in the writing of this article.



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