Retailers Try the Movies to Reach Shoppers

Gap, JCPenney Tap Mall Neighbors to Push Holiday Sales

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NEW YORK ( -- With same-store sales at a 40-year low and broadcast TV ads increasingly DVR-ed into irrelevance, retailers have scrambled to find the most effective, efficient place to put their 30-second spots. Perhaps that's why JCPenney, Gap, Macy's and others are all going to the movies.
The Gap is trying out cinema for the first time by making theaters a primary vehicle for its celeb-laden holiday ad campaign, featuring stars including Jennifer Hudson.
The Gap is trying out cinema for the first time by making theaters a primary vehicle for its celeb-laden holiday ad campaign, featuring stars including Jennifer Hudson. Credit: Gap Inc.

Cliff Marks, president of sales and marketing for National Cinemedia, a cinema ad rep firm that sells advertising for all Regal, AMC and Cinemark theaters, said retailers have increased fourth-quarter cinema ad spending by "triple digits" on a year-over-year basis, and for a variety of reasons.

Weekend destination
Advertising at the movies makes sense when you consider 70% of all box office tickets are sold on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, when retailers' biggest weekend sales are being held.

But cinema has also emerged as a scalable place for marketers to supplement their TV buys or, in some cases, replace them entirely. The Gap, for instance, hasn't aired a TV spot since spring 2007 but saw a 40% lift in second-quarter 2008 profits as a direct result.

As it tiptoes back into video advertising, the marketer is trying out cinema for the first time by making movie theaters a primary vehicle for its celeb-laden holiday ad campaign, featuring stars such as Flo Rida, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Bateman and Jon Hamm ("Mad Men"). Laird & Partners, New York, did the creative for the cinema ads, as well as the print, outdoor and digital ads rolling out simultaneously. Digital buying was handled by AKQA; Publicis' Starcom handled outdoor buys, while Gap handled cinema and print buying in house.

"We are really just playing with other vehicles," said Ivy Ross, exec VP-Gap marketing. "That's not to say we'll never do TV again, we're really just experimenting. We believe that the brand needs to be represented by sight, sound and motion, and we're trying out different ways to put that in front of the consumer."

Watch till you shop
Ms. Ross was particularly drawn to cinema's ability to combine TV-esque video advertising with a coupon giveaway offering customers 15% or 20% off their next Gap purchase, all in one place. She pointed out that many theaters reside in the same malls where Gap stores are located.

"It's a great way to bring the two together, as opposed to doing separate promotional offers," she said. "We know that this holiday season we're all up against some new challenges, so rather than make it a disconnect ... we thought to test the call to action. When you're watching a commercial on TV you don't necessarily have that immediate opportunity to drive sales. This is a way of combining two things we believe in: the call to action to get people in stores and the experience of what the brand represents."

Cinema advertising increased 18.5% in 2007 to $539.5 million, fueled by categories like retail, travel, package goods and automotive. Cinema has become especially appealing to retailers in recent years because of its proximity to their stores, making brand recall generally three to four times higher than that of TV. "One of the nice things we have in our medium is engagement with our customers," Mr. Marks said. "They're sitting there, waiting for the movie to come on, so they're very engaged with the pre-show."

JCPenney is another retailer active in on the big screen, because many of its store locations share mall space with theaters. For this year's back-to-school campaign, the retailer bought 60-second spots on 93% of all national movie screens to supplement a 30-second TV campaign. "We know how important movies are," Mike Boylson, JCPenney's chief marketing officer, told Ad Age earlier this year. "[The spots are] running in the golden minute, that last pod before the trailers run. That's when the theaters are fullest and the audience is there to be entertained."

Supplement, not replacement
Media buyers are also starting to buy cinema more agnostically, as evidenced by MediaVest's attempt to shift as much as $100 million in TV dollars for clients like Procter & Gamble, Kraft and Coca-Cola into cinema last January. MediaVest was only able to commit $20 million to $30 million by June, but vowed to increase that in 2009. Now, beginning with fourth-quarter 2008, the Group M agencies -- Mediaedge:cia, MediaCom and Mindshare -- have become the first to move their cinema buying groups from out-of-home into TV, to better help clients identify national video distribution opportunities on TV, in digital out-of-home and in web video.

"If there's anything that history's taught us, it's that new media doesn't replace old media, it just becomes an additional opportunity," said Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer for Group M. "Clients need someone that can look broadly at these other options, as opposed to sitting in these specialty units wondering who's going to integrate them."
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