A Night at the Theater, a Word from GM Innovative Marketing Approach May Be Used at Other Theaters

Article excerpt

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. -- The next wave in marketing may be coming soon to a theater near you.

The nation's largest advertiser, General Motors Corp., has teamed up with Sony in a novel effort to gently advertise cars to moviegoers in Southfield, Mich., a suburb of Detroit.

It has begun the alliance -- which goes far beyond simply running ads during the movie previews -- at a new 6,000-seat, 20-screen theater here called the Star Southfield Entertainment Center, owned by the Sony Retail Entertainment division. Marketing experts say the movie house approach is innovative, and, if it is successful, GM or other advertisers may bring it to other theaters. GM is hoping it has found a way to reach past the clutter of traditional advertising to woo potential customers during a night out, instead of counting on television ads to grab their attention before they channel surf to another station. With potential customers suffering from media fatigue, "it is incumbent upon us to find new and fresh ways to engage them," said Phil Guarascio, GM's general manager of marketing and advertising. A visit to the new theater complex goes something like this: you drive to the Star theater in Southfield, where Batman and Robin plays at 20-minute intervals on seven screens; you park in the giant parking lot, and instead of remembering that you parked in the B1 area you memorize that your car is in the Chevy Camaro section. You walk past the eight new cars and trucks on display near the theater entrance, and past a model of the latest Batmobile, called the Bathammer. Once inside, you admire -- or so GM hopes -- the bright red 1997 Corvette parked nearby as you wait to buy tickets. Spotlights swirl overhead, shining the names of GM divisions along the floor and walls -- first Chevrolet, then Saturn, then Cadillac. Head for the popcorn and you may pass a display showing Elvis with the Corvette he drove in the movie Clambake. You might stroll down a wide hallway decorated with scenes from Detroit -- Tiger Stadium, the Ambassador Bridge over the Detroit River, the city skyline, and the longtime headquarters of General Motors. Settle into your seat and stare at the oversized screen to watch previews, then watch one last, one-minute video before the movie: a montage of clips from past movies featuring movie stars with their GM cars, followed by the line "GM -- Always a part of the movies that are a part of your life." The links between advertisers and entertainment have been growing closer for years. Companies pay to have sports stadiums and even stages named after them, they negotiate with studios to have actors use their products on screen (like the new Mercedes sport utility vehicle displayed so prominently in The Lost World: Jurassic Park) and to give away toys with images from movies like Disney's 101 Dalmatians. But industry experts said that they could not recall a promotion similar to GM's link with the Sony theater. "What is novel certainly is the idea of doing it at a movie house," said Clive Chajet, a corporate identity consultant who runs the Chajet Consultancy in New York. …