The NASCAR Of Advertising

June 5, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — It has been called the NASCAR of the future and it is taking advertising into a new arena — the mall.

Mall advertising and sponsorship programs have become a new avenue and medium for companies to target audiences in a unique way.

With billions of mall visitors each year, corporate marketing teams are beginning to take a look at this new mass marketing medium. Locally, RiverTown Crossings Mall has adopted the program and already has many advertisers’ interest.

“This type of marketing has been gaining momentum for the last three years. So in the world of marketing this is relatively new. We know that it does impact the audience because it is experiential marketing,” said Rick Kamel, regional vice president of marketing services for General Growth Properties (GGP), one of the nation’s largest shopping center owners, managers and developers. “We liken it to NASCAR because 20 years ago NASCAR was sponsored by motor oil, chewing tobacco and beer. Today, it is a mass medium. We know from our research and from our current clients who advertise in our malls that this is an exciting frontier for marketing.”

Although this wave of the future has been quick to prove its value, Kamel suggests companies keep an even balance and simply utilize sponsorship and mall marketing as part of its mix, both in the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) worlds.

“We advocate blending different forms of marketing based on the goals and objectives of the client,” Kamel explained.

Currently GGP owns eight malls in Michigan. With those eight malls, GGP sees 68 million visits a year. To put that into perspective, Las Vegas, on an average year, sees about 40 million visits. And, that is about the same volume as some cable TV stations. “Not only do we have huge volume but we have a tremendous amount of frequency, which are two key selling points of any marketing campaign,” Kamel added.

In the mall, there are many choices to be made when deciding where and how to advertise in the vast maze of stores. Kamel lists four best places to advertise in the mall: carousels, strollers, soft sitting areas and play areas.

For example, RiverTown Crossings Mall in Grandville has a carousel, located in the food court, that draws more than 350,000 riders a year. That’s 1,000 riders per day. Last year the carousel drew 372,000 riders and it is on pace to do 360,000 riders this year.

“Not only do you get these riders but you get all the people watching the kids ride the carousel, plus the carousels sit in the food courts. Carousels are an excellent way to reach families and children,” Kamel said.

The play areas are another good way to reach consumers, specifically families, senior citizens and children. In some cases GGP is looking at constructing play items to replicate consumer products. For example, a company such as Spartan Stores or Farmer Jack could sponsor a play area and GGP would be able to create the toys to look like packaging. There could be a can of Spartan peas or Farmer Jack ketchup.

Play areas could be either private-labeled or brand-specific, such as a toy in the shape of a Keebler cookie. Such play areas are already located in malls around the country and may soon be coming to a mall in Michigan.

Strollers are another excellent way to reach consumers, according to Kamel. In the eight centers in Michigan, there are 375 to 400 strollers, all of which have the opportunity to be large marketing avenues.

“We can make these strollers look like cars so we can put advertisements for motor oil, car wash, tire centers and body shops on the cars. Not to mention there can be a parking garage for the strollers where more specific advertisements can be placed. If I’m a car dealer I’ve got to be there. With 68 million visits a year, if I’m a marketing director, you know what I’m going to say: ‘I gotta be there, it’s a highway.’ They are in essence rolling billboards. We put thousands of miles on our strollers daily,” Kamel stated.

The fourth area for mall marketing Kamel advised is in the soft sitting area. This is a chance for a furniture manufacturer to advertise and demonstrate its product. “If I am Steelcase or Herman Miller and I want to sell office furniture, I would sponsor the soft sitting area with my furniture — talk about specific marketing — then we put that soft sitting area right next to the business furniture store,” he said.

Kamel said many clients who were looking at B2B situations were concerned that the mall would not have a place for its advertising. He said he responded to all questions with one simple answer: “Business owners shop at malls too.”

His answer is to put ads next to the luggage stores or the Franklin planner stores. “We know that teenagers don’t go to Franklin Covington but we do know that business owners do.”

When marketing managers are looking at mall sponsorship and advertising as an option, they also need to be reminded of the low cost. Today, mall sponsorship runs 30 percent of the cost of traditional marketing. While this cost is low now, Kamel expects it will not be that way for long.

“I think that three to four years from now they will be standing in line to buy sponsorships at the mall. Two main reasons for this: One, malls are community centers; people have ownership in where they shop. And the second reason I believe this will be a jam-packed medium is that advertisers and sponsors will find that this is a great way to reach their customers on multiple levels. Not only can they see the logo but they can, in fact, experience the brand — and if they choose to, they can actually survey their customers in the mall,” Kamel said.

A final option is event sponsorship. Kamel mentioned Teen Shopping Extreme, a national event in August, and also numerous Christmas events.

All of these options, and we still haven’t even touched on the opportunity for interactive service. All of GGP’s centers have T-1 servers and clients have the ability to put their Web sites at the customer service center or the soft sitting area so people can log on and be directly linked to the clients’ Web site.

Bottom line, not everything is right for everyone and clients must decide what will give them the biggest impact for each dollar. “We want to make sure the client gets as much value as they possibly can for the money they spend with us,” said Kamel. “Malls are mainstream. That’s all there is to it. And we are staying on top of the marketing world by adding another element.”   

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