PLUGGED INTO MALLS: MALLNET AIMS TO HELP ADVERTISERS BYPASS MALL TOURS VIA ITS 'NETWORK'

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Advertisers looking to hook consumers through on-site marketing at malls are showing interest in high-tech solutions that could be more affordable than the popular -- but costly -- traditional mall tour.

One solution advertisers are currently considering is MallNet, a permanent multimedia system being developed for installation in hundreds of the nation's shopping malls by San Francisco TV production company MarCast Corp.

MallNet proposes to build high-tech marketing areas in the central areas of hundreds of malls nationwide, equipped with large viewing screens to receive satellite broadcasts; and touch-screen TVs, kiosks and hands-on activity areas for pr omotions, marketing and sampling.

LESS THAN $100,000

Unlike mall tours, which typically cost at least $1 million and travel from one mall to the next, MallNet is striving to offer sponsors access to millions of consumers at once through its network for well under $100,000 per sponsorship.

Programming would consist of live or taped broadcasts of events such as space exploration or sporting events, with hands-on entertainment and education options; sponsors would have exclusive under- writing privileges for unique programs l asting an average of two weeks.

So far no major advertisers have signed on, but several major marketers have showed "strong interest" in a test set for late this year, said Jim Farney, MallNet's president.

"MallNet's concept is the next step in the direction mall marketing needs to go, where it's giving sponsors more access to consumers in a turnkey format that could work if the system gained enough critical mass," said Charlie Graves, exe c VP of the National Mall Network, a consortium of malls considering participation with MallNet.

UA SYSTEM IN THEATERS

Advertisers are separately considering the fast-growing United Artists Satellite Theatre Network, a network of theaters equipped with satellite broadcast equipment and interactive keypad devices at each theater seat.

Used so far by corporations for business seminars and sales force meetings, the UA network is now being considered by a major carmaker for a consumer promotion involving inviting people to see a short film about a product at a mall-based theater, followed by a visit to a hands-on product marketing display within the mall. Consumers would be rewarded with free popcorn and movie tickets, with prizes, contests and giveaways.

"It's the ideal marriage of multimedia, interactivity and entertainment," said Michael Aisner, who has headed UA's Satellite Theatre Network since its inception in 1993.

General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet division, Microsoft Corp., Nike and other major corporations are already regular users of the UA Satellite Theatre Network for business-to-business purposes; now the system is under consideration for major consumer promotions by diverse marketers, including Nike, Mr. Aisner said.

BIG POTENTIAL

Sponsorship consultants see significant potential for the new mediums. "Mall tours are a very important and growing area for sponsorship, but they're expensive and difficult to promote," said Darren Iverson, a San Francisco-based sponsor ship consultant. "Satellite-delivered solutions being proposed would solve a lot of problems for both malls and sponsors, if they maintained the genuine hands-on element of one-to-one marketing that a mall tour offers."

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