Theater titans unleash multichannel strategies to fill seats
The AMC Stubs program costs $12 per year; The Regal Crown Club loyalty program is free to members
Established in 1920
5,098 screens (357 locations)
Regal Entertainment Group
Established in 1989
6,653 screens (534 locations)
As the holiday movie season gears up, so do the marketing programs of theater operators AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment Group — marketing strategies that have come to rely upon online sales of tickets and partnerships with online ticket vendors.
Both AMC and Regal maintain websites that promote showtimes and that direct consumers to e-commerce sites like Fandango and MovieTickets.com. The issue remains navigating those consumers to the point of sale.
Stephen Colanero, CMO of AMC, says the focus of its site is "to make it easy for our guests to buy tickets and to reduce the distraction from buying tickets." AMC's homepage focuses on promoting current feature films and features a widget enabling consumers to find local showtimes.
Meanwhile, Regal's site offers up an array of options on its site, featuring a front-and-center matrix format. With 11 different thumbnails, consumers can click to view showtimes, join the Regal Crown Club customer loyalty program, check out concession offerings and schedule events. Regal did not return requests for comment.
The chains' disparate content strategies extend to their Facebook pages. AMC's page directs consumers to a tool enabling them to search for local showtimes, while Regal's Facebook page calls on consumers to submit their mobile phone numbers to receive coupons for free popcorn.
"Regal is tipping its hat to the fact that it's about getting folks to the local theater," says Noah Mallin, VP and group director of social media at Digitas. "Regal is more about the popcorn promotion, which is OK but doesn't have the same utility."
Mallin applauds Regal's Facebook giveaway, but says AMC has a more engaging page, mixing content such as a Movie Times tab with community-building initiatives such as Movie Memories, through which consumers can upload photos, videos or testimonials for the chance to win a $100 AMC gift card and be featured as Fan of the Week. By late September, Regal had 260,162 Facebook fans, compared with AMC's 1.7 million.
While neither AMC nor Regal has a mobile app, each operates a mobile-optimized site. Both prompt consumers to type in their ZIP codes to find local showtimes. But the similarities end there.
After entering his or her data on AMC's mobile site, the consumer is directed to a list of local theaters with the option to check out showtimes, call a theater or access information such as ticket prices. As with its traditional site, AMC customers wanting to purchase tickets are redirected to Fandango and MovieTickets.com.
Unlike the strictly business mobile experience of AMC, Regal bogs down the user with a raft of choices, including a list of theaters, current films, upcoming releases and movies available for advance ticket sales. After accessing the list of nearby theaters, the consumer can click through to yet another page to see showtimes, call the theater or view a map of the theater's location. Consumers who opt for the list of films currently showing rather than of nearby theaters are taken to an alphabetical list that, after selecting a film, then transfers them to Fandango's mobile site to view showtimes and purchase tickets.
Despite both brands boasting mobile-optimized sites, only AMC lives up to the billing. Eddie Gomez, associate creative director in experience design at SapientNitro, says that for a mobile site to succeed, it needs to be tailored to the on-the-go mobile consumer. Although both mobile sites meet his metric of being "less than three steps from adding a ZIP code," Regal's experience could more easily lose a consumer's interest.
The same could be said of Regal's email marketing program. Regal optimized its email acquisition call-to-action, but seemingly little else. Positioned atop its homepage in a standalone gold box is the copy "Weekly Showtime Email," in bold caps. Regal's approach contrasts with that of AMC, which buries its email opt-in on its site's subpages but not the homepage. AMC features an email opt-in on its Facebook page, while Regal does not.
Once the consumer clicks to opt into Regal's email newsletter, he or she is taken to a form more suggestive of a site account registration than an email sign-up. The user must input his or her first name, email address (twice), password (also twice), ZIP code and favorite Regal location. Consumers are also asked to specify whether they are over or under the age of 14. Onerous as Regal's email form is, Loren McDonald, VP of industry relations at Silverpop, says he "bailed" after the password prompt. "You said 'Weekly Showtime Email' - why do I need a password?" he asks.
Direct Marketing News signed up for Regal's Weekly Showtime Email on a Wednesday, yet by the following Monday no email from Regal had been delivered, neither a welcome email nor the titular email tied to that weekend's showtimes. McDonald says it could be due to a backend that doesn't automatically upload opt-ins to a given week's email. He says the bigger issue is the lack of a welcome email.
After a consumer submits his or her email address, ZIP code and birthday, a confirmation email is triggered asking the user to click through to confirm his or her email address. McDonald says this email is "not necessarily a welcome email." AMC followed up the verification email with a true welcome email outfitted with links to update the consumer's profile, watch movie trailers, submit film reviews and edit email preferences.
Colanero says the brand emails subscribers up to twice a week, with messages varying from a list of films playing that week to special promotions or offers. Direct Marketing News signed up for AMC's email program the same Wednesday as it did Regal. With the exception of the verification and welcome emails, it had yet to receive an email fitting Colanero's description.
In April of this year, AMC relaunched its loyalty program as AMC Stubs. Colanero says it is designed to deliver "richer rewards" than the old program. But richer means costlier for AMC, which is why the company started charging $12 per year for the membership. By contrast, the membership to the Regal Crown Club is free.
That said, consumers get what they pay for. Regal's loyalty members receive one credit per dollar spent on ticket purchases and four credits for every concession transaction. After members accumulate 50 credits, they each earn a free small-sized popcorn. Meanwhile, AMC Stubs members accrue a $10 reward for every $100 spent, as well as free upgrades for popcorn and fountain drinks and waived online ticket fees.
An out-of-focus film will never receive "two thumbs up." Same goes for a marketing program. From its website to its mobile-optimized site to its Facebook page, Regal failed to guide the consumer through a cohesive narrative. AMC endured its faults, particularly its email marketing program, but reined them in by comparison. The plotline for both companies is putting people in the seats. AMC did a far better job of keeping that mission in the spotlight.