As retail media grows, more agencies are implementing their own ways to guide clients

The headlong rush into commerce media — predominantly embodied by the surge of retail media networks launched over the last three years — has been well documented by the B2B press, and Digiday is no exception. As more and more retailers open their data troves to find new ways to monetize them, media agencies (notably the holding companies) have scrambled to assemble commerce or retail media units to help clients navigate this path.

Surprisingly, GroupM’s president of business intelligence Kate Scott-Dawkins revised her estimate of retail media spend downward in her December forecast, to $119.4 billion from $125.7 billion in June — mainly due to a significant slowdown in China. The rest of the world is buzzing.

“Although the U.S. and China are still expected to represent 77.6% of global retail media ad revenue in 2024, they will be among the slowest growing,” wrote Scott-Dawkins in her forecast, predicting 38% growth in Brazil, 24.5% in Mexico, and 22% in France. “By 2028, we expect retail media revenue to exceed that of linear TV and CTV combined.”

Here in the U.S., the media agency focus on retail media networks has been predominantly holding companies going after the big boys and girls of retail — from e-commerce granddaddy Amazon to the Walmarts, Albertson’s, Targets and Instacarts of the world. But so many other retailers have thrown their hats into the proverbial retail media network ring, including United Airlines, Uber, Dollar General and others.

One independent agency formed by 360i veteran Jared Belsky, Acadia, aims to ply the middle market of retail media, having set up specialty retail units for Chewy but is now launching with Kroger Precision Marketing and Ulta. Belsky said he plans to launch with six more retailers in 2024. In essence, Acadia is creating a long tail of sorts for the retail media network space.

Why is Acadia going after the middle market? Marketers (especially the middle-market brands that form Acadia’s sweet spot) need growth platforms where they matter. That will require navigating myriad options to pick the right vertical platforms. They need to master the long tail of retail media, so they need a lot of help.

“For too many, retail media has been synonymous with just Amazon — and indeed, Amazon is a huge story as the largest of the marketplaces,” said Belsky, whose Acadia purchased Bobsled Marketing, which specializes in retail media work, in 2021. “So there’s a truth in it. But, the truth has gone too far, to the point where it’s not in the industry’s or the clients’ best interest to see retail media as Amazon alone. Knowing how to help a client through Chewy is different than helping a client through Walmart, and different helping a client through Instacart.”


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