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COMPANY TOWN

Marketers Lobby for Movie Customers

Consumers: From popcorn-bag ads to computer kiosks, multiplex audiences are being bombarded with products, promotions.

August 20, 1996|MARLA MATZER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's Saturday night, and you've gone to see "Tin Cup" on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. You stop at the concession stand; your popcorn bag is covered with a full-color ad for Paramount's "The Relic." The guy in front of you is buying his kid a "kid's pak" tied to the movie "Alaska" (Sony/Columbia), which includes a cup with the Coke polar bear on it. Before going to your seat, you enter to win a Nissan (as seen in "Tin Cup," a Warner Bros. picture), and pause to check out some Disney Interactive "Hunchback of Notre Dame" software on an AST computer in the lobby.

Marketers and theater owners have discovered that multiplex lobbies provide a captive and highly desirable audience for all kinds of products. No wonder: According to the National Assn. of Theater Owners, 25% of theater admissions are 6-to-24-year-olds, considered a prime, malleable target for marketers. And 44% of admissions are 25-to-49-year-olds, those active consumers with disposable income who are expensive to reach through television.

Although there are many experiments in "place-based advertising"--from airport and shopping mall TV channels to ads on supermarket floors--movie exhibitors say they can deliver a more quantifiable and focused captive audience.

New Line Cinema introduced decorated popcorn bags at Cineplex Odeon theaters in 1994 for "The Mask." For years, the studios have provided cash, trips and other incentives to theater chains to play up certain "project pictures" (hoped-for blockbusters such as "Mission: Impossible") via sometimes-elaborate lobby displays and sweepstakes. With "Mission," some theaters ran sweepstakes in conjunction with local retailers to give away computers from Apple, which had a placement and advertising tie-in with the movie reportedly valued at $15 million.

Products from or related to other entertainment media--TV shows, computers, software and personal electronics products--are the most common non-movie marketers in theaters.

"We want promotions that bring value to us and provide entertainment to the consumer," says Dick Westerling, AMC vice president of corporate marketing, who last year cut a deal with video game maker Sega to set up computers featuring their "Toy Story" game in 25 AMC theaters in conjunction with the Disney film. Moviegoers could also register to win the game.

Irvine-based AST Computer, struggling to relaunch itself in the competitive PC market, this summer placed 150 of its computers in brightly decorated kiosks at theaters across the country showing Disney's "Hunchback." Moviegoers, including those at AMC's Santa Monica 7 on the Promenade and Cineplex Odeon's Universal City location, could try out Disney Interactive software and pick up literature on AST's Advantage home PC.

"It's great to be associated with a brand name like Disney. And with a movie like 'Hunchback,' their target is our target: families," says AST Advantage brand manager Hollie Cronin, adding that she's already getting pitched by other studios to tie with their films.

The fabled "synergy" also plays a role as goliath entertainment firms broaden their reach into theater chains. Sony Theatres, for example, had Sony Playstation kiosks in its top 75 locations (including L.A.'s Magic Johnson Theatres, which it co-owns and operates with Johnson) in November and December, at which patrons could play games and enter to win a Playstation.

The National Amusements chain is owned by Sumner Redstone, who also controls Viacom (Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, MTV, etc.). From November 1995 through May of this year, the nearly 1,000-screen chain promoted Nickelodeon's animated show "Aaahh!!!! Real Monsters" with decorated popcorn bags and cups and extensive lobby signage. The chain has also offered special cups tied to MTV's annual Video Music Awards and the Paramount movie "Congo," among others.

With the proliferation of fast-food tie-ins on kids' movies, theaters have gotten into cross-promotion with Burger King and McDonald's. Burger King had a "bounce back" deal with AMC theaters this summer with "Hunchback," in which buyers of a themed kids meal could redeem a coupon for a free "pop-up playset" (similar to a page from a pop-up book) when they went to see the movie at an AMC theater.

There are ongoing experiments with branded food inside theaters themselves. Magic Johnson Theatres has a Mrs. Field's cookie concession. But theater executives are lukewarm on the benefits of such deals, since they make a huge profit on traditional non-franchised concessions such as popcorn and soda.

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