Holiday bonuses: In a slowdown, promote, promote, promote

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The holiday season is here, which is second only to the summer season in importance for the theatre industry. As usual, there are some great blockbuster films in store for the November/December time frame, and the accompanying promotions have been set in motion. Every year, theatre circuits and their suppliers choose both summer and holiday films to promote through various concession items. These promotions have become a standard part of concession sales.

Promotions, seasonal or not, lift concession sales. Like any other product sale, offering a “special’” a “discount” or a “takeaway” is a great way to promote and push concessions at the theatre. This year is no exception, and in fact the practice is getting to be more important. As the economy slows, getting the consumer to purchase concessions will be ever more challenging, and promotions are a great way to help this cause. Let’s take a look at some of the normal holiday promotions underway, some of the new promotional items, and other types of promotions that are not really seasonal but that are certainly helping sales at the moment.

First, those cup, bag and tray promotions that both exhibitors and film distributors have come to depend on are in full swing. The new James Bond film Quantum of Solace, Madagascar 2 and The Tale of Despereaux are just a few of the big films that have bag, cup and tray programs accompanying their release at the theatre. The concession operator gets a great deal on these items from the studio to promote their films, and the studios have a strong advertising vehicle. It’s a good match, one that drives concession sales, and a normal part of the concession offering during the holiday season.

Some newer promotional items include trading cards and cup toppers. These items have become interesting alternatives to the collectible plastic cup. Trading cards are a natural for the theatre sale, as they are easy to distribute as a “takeaway” item that adds value for the consumer. Look for more possibilities with trading cards, as a Los Angeles-based company called A-List Global Media has started a new line of movie star trading cards called PopCardz. So, in addition to specific film trading cards, movie star trading cards could make a great concession prize.

Also new for the first time, Pez Dispensers with Madagascar 2 characters will be distributed as a promo item in Cinemark theatres at the same time as the release of the film. New for Pez, the dispensers will be released with the film, not afterwards, and Cinemark will be the only U.S. retailer to have them. So Pez collectors are on high alert! AICP is distributing the Pez product to Cinemark locations.

Chris Sciortino of AICP describes the promotion as a winning combination for both Pez and Cinemark: “Building a concession combo pack which includes a movie tie-in to Pez-licensed characters for a proven film property like Madagascar 2 is a win-win. The exhibitor is able to provide their customers with a tangible piece of the movie experience as a takeaway while advancing their own need to drive concession awareness and sales.”

Promotions in theatres right now also include discounted items and various fun ideas. Oreo’s Cakesters are available in AMC theatres right now for only one dollar at the concession stand. It’s a great way for the Oreo brand to create awareness of its new product and for AMC to capture some concession sales and also be innovative for its customers. Another promotion is the continued “Mix It Up” promotion by Nestlé which has proven its staying power by encouraging the purchase of popcorn and various confections to be purchased, mixed up, and eaten together. The sweet, salty, buttery combo plays well with people across the country and Nestlé has done a good job of promoting it with select product and theatre circuits at different times.

Other promotions at the concession stand are for external causes. The military has made use of popcorn bags and cups to run recruiting promotions, especially for the National Guard, in select theatres. They know it’s a captured audience, and it’s a great opportunity to catch the attention of potential recruits, seeing their advertisement on the popcorn bag or drink cup. October was National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and M&M Mars created special packs of pink-blend M&M’s to support the Susan G. Kommen for the Cure® foundation, available at select theatres. This kind of promotion motivates consumers to purchase for the greater community and feel good about themselves, and drives concession sales.

Now is the time to plan your promotions for 2009. If the predictions for the economic slowdown are correct, 2009 will be a tough year. Promotions can help. The programs are out there, and the manufacturers need to push their products. Promotions are critical in economic hard times because they give the consumer that extra push to buy, that extra giveaway, discount or special product that offers them the added value they desire to make the purchase. Seasonal or not, concession promotions are more important than ever to bring the operator a concession sale. Consumers will be evaluating more closely how they spend their money; giving them greater value in tough times will persuade them to spend it in the theatre.

Please send any comments to Anita Watts at anitaw at reactornet.com.