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New marketing frontiers await shoppers

From food courts to banners hung from the ceilings, mall ads screaming "buy me" beckon .

By MARK ALBRIGHT
Published October 17, 2006


Every seat in a Las Vegas casino is positioned in front of a gaming device.

Now malls are tuning in a similar strategy in their zeal to put ads in every conceivable spot in their buildings.

At Westfield Countryside mall, for instance, they'll slap your ads on each one of the food court tabletops. Banners hanging from the ceiling and columns have been rented to promote Paramount movie releases.

A dozen digital sign boards, strategically placed, broadcast merchants' latest sale promotions and other paid ad messages all day.

The volume level is still well below the commercial message barrage that bombards grocery store shoppers, but mall landlords are about to dial it up a few more notches.

Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg is deploying 30 plasma TV sets with 52-inch screens equipped to air 15-, 30- and 60-second commercials. Ad banners are being ordered. The mall plans to install two full-sized billboards on its exterior walls this winter.

"We've got 14-million pairs of eyeballs here every year," said Jeni Wilson, Tyrone marketing manager with Simon Property Group, which also owns Gulfview Square in Port Richey.

"Advertisers today are venturing into less traditional advertising, so we're offering them exposure right where people purchase things," said Tara Waterston, regional marketing manager for Westfield America, which is or will be offering similar services at its malls in Citrus Park and Brandon.

In-mall advertising has been restrained to date. That's because mall owners didn't want to foul their aesthetics and because advertisers had no tool to measure return on the investment.

Then, eight years ago, malls began selling marketing sponsorships to non-tenants that included on-property advertising. JCDecaux, a Parisian boulevard poster ad agency, brought its tasteful silver-framed kiosks and national advertising inside American malls.

And mall owners such as Simon hired research firm Arbitron to start measuring traffic to develop rate cards for its portfolio of 250 malls. Next year, advertisers will see Simon's Arbitron mall ratings by metro market.

These days a typical regional mall rakes in $500,000 to $1-million a year from advertising or sponsorships for such amenities as children's play areas. It's virtually all profit.

Two other big departures from past practice: malls are selling ad space themselves. Advertisers, local or national, need no link to the stores that rent space there.

So far other mall landlords have steered clear of the latest attempts to take mall ads to a new level in fear they will produce clutter.

"We are very discerning about maintaining the integrity of our property both for our retail tenants and for our shareholders," said David Goldberg, vice president of marketing and sponsorships for Taubman Centers Inc., which operates International Plaza.

Goldberg, however, noted that what's appropriate for one mall may not be appropriate for another.

That's why Taubman put a couple of huge outdoor billboards with fashion ads on the parking garage of the five-level Beverly Center near West Hollywood.

"Everybody's watching these programs to see what happens next," said Jay Botch, who manages WestShore Plaza for Glimcher Real Estate Investment.

"We try to make sure any ad space we offer is strategic to the interests of the mall and its tenants."

Tyrone has sold tent card ads for its food court tables, but plans to stop after it begins selling the entire tabletops, like Countryside, to advertisers next year.

"We won't put ads on top of ads," said Wilson, "That would be clutter."

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or 727 893-8252.