Behind almost every showbiz success is an imaginative marketing strategy. Greater Union – with a 10-member marketing and media unit presiding over a A$5 million ($3.7 million) annual avalanche of TV commercials, loyalty and niche marketing, competitions and promotions – is no exception to that rule.

“We want people to visit our cinemas and visit more often. We are trying to make cinema-going a part of everyday life,” national marketing manager David Williams explains. “We work from the ground up to en sure more people to see films at Greater Union.”

To achieve this, Williams employs a three-tiered strategy – incorporating local (areas near individual cinema complexes) and state media markets, and national marketing plans – underpinned by his inhouse promotions factory, which works in tandem with Sydney advertising agency Marketforce.

The national generic television campaign, sporting the catchy tagline “That’s what I want,” aims to differentiate and promote Greater Union’s cinemas and is supported by individual promotional efforts to woo specific market segments. Such efforts augment movie marketing by distributors.

An example is the recent school-vacation push for UIP’s “Casper,” which gave kids free glow-in-the-dark drink containers in a promotional tie-in with McDonald’s fast-food restaurants. A magazine and TV ad campaign to promote the giveaway was aimed at making Greater Union’s “Casper” showings stand out from the rest of the crowd. A press and radio campaign giving away “Apollo 13” soundtracks also was devised, and similar campaigns for Fox’s “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie” and BVI’s “Pocahontas” are planned.

Another marketing trick to snare a slice of the children’s market comes in the shape of a Candy Bear mascot, whose profile is developing through appearances on national children’s TV shows and at school fetes.

“Australian distributors are among the best in the world at marketing,” Williams believes. “New complexes are opened with more advertising than ever before because it is our aim to make them reach their peak faster. The multiplex business has made the market far more competitive than ever before.”

“We have to make going out to the cinema part of people’s lifestyle in ‘virgin’ territories,” adds chief general manager John Smith, citing Campbell-town in Sydney’s outer western suburbs as an example in which all manner of freebies were used to induce people out of their homes and into Greater Union’s new megaplex.

Williams also introduced various methods of loyalty marketing on a local level – in addition to ads in the local press – by setting up clubs to encourage people to see the film more than once, and increase interest from market niches not renowned for heavy cinema attendance.

One example is the establishment of senior clubs in suburbs where retirees are abundant, to fill cinemas during slow daytime sessions. The clubs feature a variety of activities, and some of the more successful ones have 4,000 to 8,000 members per multiplex.

“It is a challenge to get over-50s back to cinemagoing – they are out of the habit,” Williams says. “But from these activities, we have created a healthy daytime market. It becomes a social outing: We often give them free tea, coffee and cakes to make them feel special, and they then come to see their movies with us.”

The senior club success has produced results that have surprised even its creators.

“When we set it up we thought it would be good for things like While You Were Sleeping,’ but (in daytime sessions), ‘Under Siege 2’ was full of greyheads. It has become the town hall of the 1990s,” Williams adds.

The marketing unit also is trying out a frequent moviegoer program in Perth, which if successful could become a national scheme drawing on – and, in the process, enhancing – Greater Union’s direct-mail database.

Other ploys to encourage more frequent moviegoing include the “movie money” discount book of 10 tickets, a promotion of gift vouchers and spot competitions in which free tickets are awarded to customers buying tickets.

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