NOW PLAYING: GAP, TARGET TAKE RETAIL TO THE MOVIES: SEARS HAS ALREADY USED MEDIUM FOR APPAREL AND COSMETICS

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Retailers, realizing that prospective customers frequently are nearby in a shopping center's adjoining cinema complexes, are starting to move into that medium.

The Gap and Target Stores both broke their first cinema commercials this spring, entering a venue dominated by automobile, soft drink and food marketers.

The Gap, which returned to TV advertising in April with a revival of its "Fall into the Gap" slogan, broke its new effort with a musical-performance commercial featuring country singer/guitarist Junior Brown and his wife, Tanya, performing a piece created for the spot (AA, June 2).

That followed similar TV spots created in-house that broke on network TV earlier, featuring rapper LL Cool J and actors Lukas Haas, David Arquette and Eric Mabius.

'EXCITED ABOUT CINEMA'

"I'm excited about cinema," said Michael McCadden, senior VP-marketing at the Gap, although he added that it's too early to determine the results of the effort, which broke over the Memorial Day weekend in about 800 Cineplex Odeon theaters.

Target Stores launched a new 90-second cinema commercial, titled "Far From Home" from agency HMS Partners, Minneapolis, to coincide with the release of the dinosaur thriller "The Lost World: Jurassic Park."

In the Target spot, a young boy scurries about a crowded Mideast bazaar and passes a note to a coed. She brings the note to the office of an old man who gives her a package. When she opens the box, she finds a letter from Mom, cookies and a Target catalog.

The Target spot ran via the Screenvision Cinema Network, which has 8,200 screens in 2,000 theaters, and a shorter version is scheduled to run on TV.

"It's something we wanted to do for a while," said Rod Eaton, Target's director of sales promotion. "The idea for the commercial was the catalyst. It should be a movie, and not a spot."

THE IRRITATION FACTOR

Some retailers are reluctant to enter the medium for that reason, because they believe messages should stick with a soft sell or risk incurring the ire of moviegoers.

"It's hard to justify using a medium in which a commercial must be pure entertainment," said one advertising executive.

He added that he also was concerned about the problem of controlling the time when the advertising runs at theaters.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. ran cinema ads for its Canyon River Blues apparel and Circle of Beauty cosmetics "in lieu of 'Many sides of Sears' to better reflect the target demographics of moviegoers," said John Costello, senior exec VP-marketing. "We view movies as a targeted medium vs. a mass market medium."

The enticement is that so many theaters are located in or adjacent to shopping malls, and potential customers "are already right next door," said Anne-Marie Marcus, senior VP-national director of sales for Screenvision.

She said the initial fuss moviegoers made over advertisements in movie theaters has died down.

Now "as long as it's good advertising, people don't view it as a big intrusion," Ms. Marcus said.

TJ MAXX UNLIKELY TO TRY AGAIN

One clothing retailer, off-price chain TJ Maxx, has experimented with the medium and is said to be unlikely to use cinema again.

But food retailers such as McDonald's Corp. and Outback Steakhouse are among the prime users of cinema spots, said Dennis Fogarty, CEO of Screenvision.

Last year, Screenvision handled campaigns from 50 separate advertisers, many in the apparel category-including Guess? for its jeans. Its "Cheat" spot, created in-house, was considered one of the best overall spots of 1996.

Another major category in cinema is automotive. BMW of North America used a cinema ad for its fall 1995 launch of the Z3 roadster, which had a tie-in with the James Bond movie "GoldenEye." Dick Clark Corporate Productions, Burbank, Calif., did the spot.

General Motors Corp.'s Oldsmobile Division will break its first spots on the medium during the sendoff for the new Intrigue sedan. Olds will run three spots from "Top Gun" director Tony Scott on 4,000 screens coast to coast from mid-July through mid-August. Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, is the agency.

Other new users of the movie medium are public service announcements, with numerous pro bono spots now appearing in theaters. Houston Herstek Favat, Boston, is playing a 30-second antismoking commercial on screens in Boston for the Massachusetts Department of Health.

SOME RESTRICTIONS

Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. studios prohibit theaters from running advertising before their movies, while Sony Corp.'s theaters don't permit full-motion commercials.

Ms. Marcus put the price of cinema spots at from $500,000 for a 30-second spot running one month on all performances on all Screenvision screens to about

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