Making a SCENE: Cineplex's loyalty program grows to 2.7 million members


As Canada’s largest cinema operator enters the summer blockbuster season, Cineplex Entertainment is preparing for a special milestone. Sometime soon, the country’s “first and only entertainment rewards program” will welcome its three-millionth member.

Launched on Jan. 24, 2007, with an initial 600,000 new members in year one, Cineplex’s SCENE has grown to 2.7 million members at the most recent published count, delivering on the program’s goal and objectives.

During a March investor presentation in New York City, president and chief executive officer Ellis Jacob named some of those goals: to “gain a more thorough understanding of guests” by mining membership data; to “communicate directly and frequently [with members] to drive increased frequency” of visitation and purchases; and to “generate additional revenue.”

SCENE is making a scene across Canada not just due to the richness of its rewards—from movies and concessions to music downloads and discounts on entertainment purchases at the Cineplex Store, to redemptions at restaurants and chances to win concert and event tickets—but also the many opportunities to collect points. After all, Cineplex doesn’t just have its own SCENE membership card but also offers co-branded debit and credit cards in partnership with Scotiabank, one of country’s top five financial institutions and “Canada’s most international bank.”

The idea for the loyalty program was born in 2006 as part of a larger “three-fold initiative” that Cineplex proposed to Scotiabank, recalls Pat Marshall, Cineplex’s VP, communications and investor relations. “They were very keen on the partnership idea.” The package also included an “ongoing pre-show advertising opportunity” and the naming rights for a handful of prime theatre locations that had been branded Paramount when Cineplex acquired the Famous Players circuit. “Obviously, Viacom wanted to have the name back and we obliged. Renaming a building is a very expensive initiative when you have to replace all the signage.”

Adding points for everyday purchases and other banking transactions is a huge benefit to members. “SCENE was the very first loyalty program associated with a debit card,” Marshall explains, “which more so than in the U.S. is very widely used across Canada. In addition to our traditional black SCENE card, which is free to join and awards 100 points for every theatre visit, the SCENE ScotiaCard earns one point for every $5 purchase transaction at any merchant and five points for every $1 at Cineplex.”

The Scotiabank SCENE Visa card—the third and most recent SCENE membership option—gives one point for virtually every dollar charged and five SCENE points for every single one spent at Cineplex, and has become “the simplest and fastest way to get free movies.” So fast and furious, in fact, that 2,000 sign-up bonus points are added after the first purchase with the card. “That’s two free movies to enjoy,” the advertisement further promises. And there’s even a calculator to prove it.

For Marshall, however, another “huge benefit and well-loved benefit of the program” is the 10% discount at the concession stand and for all quick-service snack options that Cineplex has to offer. Counting the multiple terminals in its theatre lobbies alone, not to mention all the points of debit and credit card sales across the country, one cannot help but be awed by the sheer number of point transactions that need to be recorded. “We use an organization called Maritz that is exterior to both Scotiabank and Cineplex,” Marshall explains, acknowledging the complex administrative backbone. “SCENE members use the program regularly to redeem their points. There are some months of the year where we are actually redeeming more points than members are earning. So you can see that there is a terrific turnover and that guests are eagerly using the program.” Movie tickets are the most popular rewards item, followed by concessions, she confirms.

“There are many other promotions and initiatives that we may apply to give you bonus points.” Marshall adds, citing a current initiative in the province of Québec whereby it takes only half the points on Wednesdays to redeem a free movie reward. Conversely, triple points can be earned when visiting the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto. “That’s obviously one of the incentives that Cineplex is using to drive attendance.”

And there is more, she says. “We may have a marketing or concession program that is featuring a specific product and we will send out targeted e-mails to SCENE members that alert them about bonus points during a specific period of time when they purchase that product.” In case of a new UltraAVX theatre coming, Marshall says of Cineplex’s proprietary large-screen experience (FJI November 2010), “we e-mail members in the area to incentivize them to go and check it out.”

In addition to such programs “that are more specific to communities or to theatres within a community,” SCENE data is so detailed that Cineplex can address members in many other ways. “The fact that it is so highly targeted is one of the great aspects of the program,” Marshall has observed. “Reaching moviegoers by a theatre area, locally within a city, throughout that entire city and then expanding into regions and provinces, nationally—there are so many different opportunities for us to target.” Targeting by genre and even specific titles as used by the studios “to effectively promote their films,” she confirms, “has worked very, very well too.”

Again, one has to ask about administration. “We have a joint venture called SCENE with an administrative team set up to run the program,” Marshall replies. “Our marketing team at Cineplex works with them, of course, to promote and market initiatives in-theatre. Similarly, there is a bank marketing group that runs the other side of the program within the banks. It’s a great initiative that both Cineplex and Scotiabank have wrapped their arms around fully.”

What types of promotions get wrapped up in the SCENE package—such as a current deal with Sirius satellite radio, or redeeming rewards for a chance to win a trip to see Lady Gaga in Las Vegas or Bon Jovi in Vancouver—is subject to careful experimentation by the marketing groups. After providing the basic opportunity to earn free movies and concession combos with 10% off on all snack purchases, “we started to expand the program by offering very specific promotional benefits.” According to Marshall, music downloads were one of the first and remain popular; dining offers became another. “We tested restaurant offerings in a variety of ways before creating our program with Milestones Grille + Bar. Originally, this initiative started out in Ontario only for a short period of time. Milestones was as delighted with the results as we were. Most importantly, our SCENE members were delighted, and now the program is available for a full year after having expanded into Alberta and British Columbia as well.”

The development process is generally the same. “You never know what’s really going to hit,” Marshall says about the many ideas that are bandied about. “We are always learning through a variety of trial initiatives and one-off contests, and trying to understand from our database what the guests want and what they are less interested in. Whether they perceive any given initiative as a good benefit for being a SCENE member is key in deciding to roll it out more broadly or not.”

But do not expect Cineplex to be making the SCENE too broadly. “One of the things that Ellis Jacob has been very focused on is that our loyalty program doesn’t become diluted, with gasoline redemptions, let’s say, or in hardware stores. He wants to keep SCENE purely in the entertainment space and pure to the desires of the members,” Marshall relays.

“The whole focus of the SCENE program is to provide great membership benefits with the goal to ensure that guests are happy with the offerings.” A recent survey confirmed why “Movie Lovers Get It,” to quote the official slogan. “Seventy-five percent of SCENE members are very satisfied with the program, which is the top tier and very good news for us. It’s the number-one entertainment loyalty rewards program in Canada and number four overall,” behind Aeroplan, Air Miles and Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum, all of which are “very significant programs that have been in the country for years.” Marshall enthusiastically concludes, “We could not be more pleased with the program. It has exceeded all of our expectations and then some.”

Our series on cinema loyalty programs continues next month with a focus on Europe.