Data & Tech

Are Cooler Screens the fridge of the future?

Doors, with ads!
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Cooler Screens

· 5 min read

If there is a blank canvas, sure enough, there will always be someone looking to fill it with an advertisement. Cooler Screens has found a blank canvas in the refrigerated aisles of America’s convenience and grocery stores.

Granted, those clear doors that fog up aren’t exactly bare—and they serve a purpose—but Cooler Screens is putting them to work, building and maintaining Star Trek–like tech in retailers like Walmart, Walgreens, and Kroger.

What is it? The company’s screens brightly display which drinks, booze, and snacks are behind the door, so people can still see what’s available. But display ads and pop-ups can litter the screen, and if no one is within a few feet of a door, the entire screen fills with an ad.

Who’s onboard: Cooler Screens has installed some 10,000 screens across 750 retail locations, reaching an estimated 80 million monthly views, the company’s founder and CEO Arsen Avakian told Marketing Brew at Advertising Week New York, where Cooler Screens had a humble two screens set up.

  • Advertisers who’ve bought the inventory include Pepsi, Coke, AB InBev, Unilever, White Claw, and Procter & Gamble.
  • The company says, on average, brands see a sales lift between 5% and 10% on products that advertise on their screens.

Sensors that can tell how close shoppers are to the screen can also gauge if they’ve seen an ad, what they’re looking for, if they open and close a door, and if they’ve gone for a Diet Coke or a kombucha.

Though the sensors don’t use facial-recognition technology and can’t tell gender or other identifiable data, they can give advertisers a sense of how their ads are actually leading to in-store purchases.

“We can actually tell people if their ad is working or not. We know what you took,” Avakian told Marketing Brew. “We applied that same science of e-commerce in a physical store, except it’s not a mouse or a browser. It’s the sensors that are monitoring the shopper. You need to digitize the in-store experience and monetize that experience.”

Eventually, Avakian hopes to merge his data set with the personal data retailers collect, like mobile device IDs.

So yes, the refrigerator might really be watching you—though, thankfully, it isn’t judging us. Yet.

“Ad network, aisle four”

Cooler Screens owns their advertising network, though brands can purchase its display ads through the retailers themselves. It gives its retail partners a cut of the ad spend depending on how much they invest in installing the hardware. It’s already integrated within Yahoo’s DSP and Walmart Connect.

  • Depending on the category, a full-screen CPM can cost between $10 and $20.
  • Smaller banner ads that run in-between the product lineup (or animations, like dancing White Claw cans or sparkling filter effect) can cost as little as $1 to $2.
  • CPMs are based on actual people the sensor picks up.
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Contextualize it: Though this offering is more expensive, Cooler Screens also sells a contextual layer to marketers, letting them target shoppers based on factors like the weather, time of day, and demographics of a retailer’s customer base. An iced-tea company might want to run ads during the lunch rush any day it’s more than 76 degrees out, for instance.

Avakian declined to provide revenue figures, but Cooler Screens has raised more than $100 million in funding, including investments from Verizon and Microsoft.

Obviously, advertisers are going to advertise wherever they can. But Avakian claims people might find these screens actually useful. He pointed to the fact that shoppers can more easily see a product’s nutritional value or sugar content, as they don’t have to bother with opening the door.

“They’re looking for information so they can actually make a decision. Is this kosher? Is this low sugar?” he said.

The real world

I ventured down to the 14th Street Walgreens near Union Square, where Cooler Screens has installed its hardware into two walls of refrigerators. Half of the coolers weren’t working, displaying an “out of order” sign above a Walgreens logo (a Walgreens employee told us the coolers had just stopped working).

Fortunately, the second wall of coolers was illuminated and humming with ads. Avakian’s description of distance proved to be right—the closer I got to the screens, the display changed from a full-screen advertisement for Halloween candy to a lineup of every product behind the door.

I didn’t find any nutritional information. They’re being rolled out weekly, a Cooler Screens representative told Marketing Brew, but I certainly noticed more advertisements than I’d ever seen in the beer aisle—an ad for Halloween candy and costume makeup, for the Mexican beer Modelo, for Monster Energy drinks. Even advertisements for products outside of the refrigerated section, like ads for Crest toothpaste and L’Oréal shampoo.

Some of the items had a small (digital) sticker on them that said “More coming soon!” meaning that though the display showed nearly every product, behind the door was a mostly empty fridge.

“It just puts people’s hopes down if you want a beverage and it’s not there,” said Bless Hall, a shopper who was looking for a drink. “It’s cool, but I think it’s a waste of power...You can have the same vision [looking through glass] and not be disappointed.”

Another shopper, Barnaby Webb, who frequents this particular Walgreens, agreed: “It seems sort of unnecessary because I remember the glass, I saw the product, and I could see the price...It seems redundant.”

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