Holiday spirit: Getting creative with fourth-quarter promotions


Yes, it’s that time of year again! A tough economic year is coming to a close heading into fourth quarter, and as we know Scrooge couldn’t stop Christmas from coming, so neither will we. For the retail industry, there is trepidation and hope that it will be a bright spot in the year. As for the cinema industry, we have weathered the storm and if the holiday season also comes through, we will have an amazing year.

So what is happening at the concession stand for the fourth quarter? Well…the promotions are not as heavy as usual. Why? Because even though the cinema business has been strong, the marketing, advertising and promotional dollars have not exactly been flowing. The constriction of the overall economy has lessened the willingness of companies to spend marketing dollars, and instead motivated them to preserve cash—and that has affected us.

What to do? We can join in the holiday promotions that are out there, participate in more “in and out” promotions, and look for creative ways to promote our concession stand offerings. The usual cup and bag promotions that accompany big upcoming blockbuster films are tried-and-true profit items and are in no short supply this season. Toy Story 1 and 2, 2012, Avatar, Planet 51 and A Christmas Carol all have full product lines and this is not the full list. The holiday slate, starting ever earlier with the Toy Story double bill at the beginning of October, should be an ample opportunity to entice the consumer at the concession stand.

But there are also “in and out” promotions available to the theatre as well. Carrying candy in pink wrapping or labeled with pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness during the month of October is a good opportunity to promote community involvement. Hershey, Mars and Ghirardelli are just a few that have prominent candy items for this cause. Operators can move “in and out” of the promotion quickly by purchasing limited stock, promoting and exposing the item in conjunction with the event, and moving on to a new promotion in a short time period.

Another example is Halloween-related items, admittedly with which operators have mixed experience. But approached as quick “in and out” promotions that are not film-related, the items can target the event and be gone. The key, as with any non-regular concession menu item, is to limit inventory. The marketing materials necessary for breast cancer awareness are greater than for Halloween. The marketing costs for promotional items for Halloween are very low, capitalizing on an already well-known event.

The same is true for Christmas, such as providing Santa Claus items at the theatre as a promotional item during the season. This is one of the creative ways to promote the sale of items at the concession stand all year long, anticipating events and leveraging the power of the large marketing dollars spent by the retail industry every year. Christmas cups, candy or popcorn bags are easy to sell in the U.S. market and again promote a spirit of community involvement and festivity.

The Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season moves many people through the theatre industry, and with managed inventory there are few reasons not to connect the two and provide Christmas-specific items. I cannot stress enough the importance of inventory control, but if you take a look at the way Starbucks in particular capitalizes on this event, you would be hard-pressed to turn away. Yes, I get it—Starbucks sells items that can be given as gifts. But so do we! Here’s a thought: Why not sell hot chocolate or Cherry Coke in Christmas cups and actually give it away free if the consumer buys a $20 gift card at the concession stand as a Christmas gift? If the marketing dollars are harder to find this year, we just have to work harder to find creative ways to keep the concession stand interesting and fresh. Not to mention that the gift card has become the most popular gift item any time of year.

The consumer does not want to see the same thing over and over again without something new and exciting. That’s one of the reasons why bringing in the promotional cups and bags works: It’s fun for the consumer to see the movie graphics in multiple mediums and not just continually buy a bag that says popcorn. It also brings studio money into the operators’ hands to subsidize the experience and helps the studio sell film. Marketing dollars are ultimately spent to create a call to action for the consumer; otherwise, would we just depend on the consumer to come into the theatre hungry? I wouldn’t count on that. The concession stand rounds out the experience by creating a fun snacking environment, not because we are necessarily feeding hungry people.

Coke is currently running a nationwide commercial that utilizes characters from the upcoming film Avatar. The commercial insinuates that drinking and sharing a Coke with someone creates just as much social interacting as Internet social networking. That may or may not be true, but the Coke commercial makes it fun to watch the characters, makes it fun to think about drinking Coke, and elevates Coke to something beyond a beverage. That is the power of promotional campaigns and marketing in general: creating and fulfilling concepts beyond the known ideas that a consumer may have.

So think outside the box! Does your consumer know everything you will be selling this holiday season? Surprise them, and make them want to come to the theatre to be a part of something new and exciting, that is catering to their desire to not just spend another ordinary day.

Please send any comments to Anita Watts at