A new exit polling technology called Gallup 800 Interactive provides the key to the venerable public opinion pollster's new push in movie research, a field it pioneered in the late 1930s and exited a decade later.
One of four basic services offered by the company's newly formed Gallup Motion Picture Research Division, Gallup 800 Interactive may represent the company's best chance to make inroads into a business dominated since the late 1970s by Saatchi & Saatchi Co.-owned National Research Group, Hollywood.
With 12 employees, the Irvine, Calif.-based Gallup motion picture group is also offering movie marketers tracking surveys, preview screenings, and tests of movie trailers and ads.
The move comes almost 50 years after Gallup's retreat from movie research, following the historic and incorrect projection by major political polls that Thomas E. Dewey would win the 1948 presidential race. Harry S. Truman's surprise victory gave filmmakers-who objected to the commerce represented by research interfering with the art of making movies-hard evidence that pollsters were unnecessary.
"There was then, and still is today, the scientist and the artist butting heads" over the issue of research, said Robert Nielsen, Gallup senior VP-managing director, western region.
Like product placement, movie research is still an issue movie executives shy away from because of its inherent mixing of art and commerce.
Though studios no longer use research to determine the "marquee value" of individual actors, movie marketers spend millions of dollars annually for data on everything from which films moviegoers are eager to see to which movie ads are the most effective. A studio will devote about $200,000 on research for a major release.
Gallup 800 Interactive replaces the live interviewers used by most exit polls with an 800-number that moviegoers are asked to call within 2 hours after the movie.
Upon entering a theater, consumers are handed a Gallup 800 Interactive card carrying the phone number, an identification number and an incentive for participating.
Moviegoers who call the polling service are asked what they thought of the movie, whether they would recommend it to friends and whether they might buy the movie sound track or video.
Gallup is promoting the service as providing information more quickly than traditional exit polls and said response rates are as high as 65% when a free movie ticket is offered as an incentive.
"It actually is a very projectable national look at what the word-of-mouth is going to be," said Mike Ginn, senior VP-managing director, western region, for Gallup.
Even with new technology, it won't be easy for Gallup to wrest business from National Research Group. The Saatchi unit is believed to have exclusive research contracts with most of the major Hollywood studios, though Gallup maintains those deals are exclusive more by tradition than any contractual obligation.
Within the movie marketing community, National Research is believed to have been made vulnerable to new competition by a December Wall Street Journal article in which former employees charged the company with selling manipulated data.