EDITORIALS

Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - Cinema Chain Loyalty

by
March 9, 2009

AMC Empire 25

Do you have any brand loyalty when it comes to movie theaters? I ask this because of the recent news that former Starbucks exec Gerald Lopez has been made head of AMC Theaters, the second-largest cinema chain in North America. Of course, Starbucks may not be a company you think of in terms of loyalty so much as addiction, since people primarily seem to go there either because the coffee chain has taken over their market or because it hooks them with higher doses of caffeine. But thinking of analogous ideas Lopez could implement at AMC, perhaps we'll soon be eating narcotic-supplemented popcorn?

Jokes (and fears) aside, I used to think of movie theaters as having no more brand loyalty than movie studios. But at least you've probably always known what chain owns your favorite (or only) local cinema, whereas you might not know what studio produced or released the last film you saw (you might not even know who made your favorite film of all time). For most people outside of urban areas, there isn't usually a choice of where they see movies. Growing up in Southern Connecticut, for instance, I basically only had Loews or National Amusements to pick from. Now there is a bit more variety there, but not a lot - not that anybody notices his or her limit, anyway. It's not as if there are nationally broadcast TV commercials for Cinemark or Regal that have moviegoers wishing they had those chains nearby to try out.

In fact, there are no locally produced ads, either, because there's no need for them. However, in metropolitan areas like New York City, there are a greater number of chains and independent theaters to choose from. And to be completely honest, for the past few years I've had a sort of brand loyalty to Regal. Some of this loyalty is because I've rarely had much to complain about with the Regal multiplexes I frequent (when it comes to choosing a favorite cinema, isn't it typically which is least terrible rather than which is truly great?), while some of it is simply because there's a Regal theater within walking distance from my home. But the main incentive I've had to frequent Regal locations is my membership in their Regal Crown Club, through which I can get occasional free movies or concessions (I also used to even have a Regal credit card, which got me even more free movies, but the chain no longer has that deal).

Of course, most other major movie theater chains have similar incentive clubs, which are obviously used to ensure brand loyalty as much as - if not more than - to reward customers. I have recently become a member of AMC's MovieWatcher club, for instance, but will rarely use it, both because there's not an AMC in my neighborhood and because I truly hate their popcorn. But I'll use it occasionally, basically only when I go to the movies with a buddy of mine who has a sort of brand loyalty to AMC. His preference always causes an argument between us when going to the movies, because near Times Square (where we typically meet for moviegoing plans) there are a Regal and an AMC directly across the street from each other, and often both cinemas are showing the same new releases. Why does he always insist on AMC? Because they have ICEE drinks there. Yes, that's the only reason, but it's an important enough one for him.

I guess fortunately for my friend's sake, if AMC's new exec Gerald Lopez does implement any familiar Starbucks ideas at AMC theaters, maybe the chain will just buy out the Regal E-Walk 13 that's located across the street from the AMC Empire 25 and then there can be two AMC's facing each other.

AMC Empire 25 marquee photo courtesy of wallyg on Flickr.

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  • If I'm not mistaken, Lopez was the one to come up with the idea of a "third place" in regard to Starbucks marketing position. Starbucks didn't become a phenomenon because they sold legal stimulants. They found a way to ingratiate themselves into the lives of consumers by become their "third place" - home, work and Starbucks - the third place they spend most of their time. It'll be interesting to see is Lopez can apply any brand loyalty to theaters, but for most communities it's one multiplex and that's it. Some locally owned, some owned by giant corporations. For me, personally, I go to the theater that is closest and isn't sold out of tickets!
  • As I was reading through this, I realized you started to touch upon one of the most interesting aspects of brand loyalty - the most minor things make all the difference. That tidbit about the ICEEs was quite interesting because, as you said, a drink can make all the difference and it's true. Though I wonder, could we ever get to a point where aspects like projection quality or how strict the management was (in kicking out disruptive patrons) would be reasons for brand loyalty? In fact, this is exactly the why the Arclight theaters in LA have so many loyal patrons. But this doesn't spread further than beyond the bounds of LA. Why is that? Why can't other theaters strive for more?
  • troy
    I agree that there isnt much opportunity for loyalty in most communities, how ever, i do disagree that people dont know what studio made the movie they are going to. People go to movies based on the studio all the time, i they know its disney, they can expect something for the whole family, marvel studios you get comic book movies... and so on. theaters are not distinct enough to elicit loyalty, where as studios are.
  • amazing
    Regal is where its at sonnnn
  • I'm a card holder for both Regal and AMC; and I usually gravitate toward Regal because their point ladder seems more realistic AND they also allow you to gain points for both your ticket price and your concession items. You get points for any dollar you spend in their theater, as opposed to AMC, who merely allow you to get the swipe for your ticket price. It's a small thing, but an important thing, when it comes to building brand loyalty.
  • chris
    i have an unlimited cinema card for the Cineworld chain in the UK, so i tend to go there as much as possible. However, there is also a VUE near by, which is a much better cinema (as far as the screens go), so i will still go there for the big releases (ie Watchmen). The closest cinema to me is Odeon, but i don't go there and i'm not sure why!
  • That's interesting about the points system at Regal and AMC. I live in Central Iowa. Here, Carmike Cinemas is the largest corporate entity and we have a lot of local theaters dotting the landscape. I usually try to go to the local theater to help them out. But a points system would entice me to return to another theater more often.
  • D-9
    I am an AMC kinda guy, however the points system sucks.
  • Aaron
    I personally like AMC's popcorn and concessions in general (and in cost) much better than Regal's (somehow theirs always tastes flat and stale), and I find AMC's seats much more comfortable as well. Of course, that may change regionally, too - I can't really say. I can see where personally opinion can differ. But for me, in Florida, AMC all the way. In regards to AMC's reward system, it does seem that they have made it less, um, rewarding recently, however.
  • National Amusements has a point system and it is AMAZING. Almost after every 3 visits I get a free medium size popcorn, not small, medium soda or free movie ticket. I live near a Regal 20, United Artists 7, United Artists 16 & IMAX (a branch of Regal), a Ritz 16 (originally a Landmark, but now a National Amusements), a Bridge Cinema De Luxe (a national amusements), AMC 8, and an AMC/Lowes 24 & Imax, and a Cinemark 16. I agree with your statement, "When it comes to choosing a favorite cinema, isn't it typically which is least terrible rather than which is truly great?" The AMC 8 and United Artists 7 and Regal 20 are absolutely awful theaters. Bridge and UA 16 & IMAX are a bit far so I don't usually go there. So for me it comes down to the showtimes and usually if I can see two in a row. Cinemark is a decent theater, but only see new movies there, because the old half of the cinema is awful while the new side is nice. I love the Ritz and they show all of the independent movies when they first come out, but usually the times don't work well together and times frequently sell out. The AMC/Lowes 24 & IMAX is a nice theatre, but it is a lot more expensive than any other one and while most of the auditoriums are 300-450 seats, some screens are as small as 80 seats and is like sitting in the front row.
  • Chuck Norris
    Kind of in the same boat as the ICEE thing: Stadium Seating is a big thing for me. Where I live (Southern IL), there aren't a lot of theater choices in the area. There are two that are fairly close, but I always go to the one with Stadium Seating. I hate straining my neck just to see the screen.
  • Tim "Cloverfield"
    Gerald Lopez is the Devil!
  • Greedo the Rodian
    Sometimes it just depends on how well I know the theatre (i.e., the ability to movie-hop my way around).
  • Carlos
    actually chris, before amc merged with loews- there was a loews theatre across the street from the empire. and it actually stayed that way after the merger for a while until regal of course had to buy out the location seeing how the two were the same brand right across the street from each other.
  • For the most part I go to Cineplex theatres (the largest chain in Canada). However, ever since an AMC theatre opened in downtown Toronto last year, I've been spending a fair amount of time there. It's really all about what's playing where and where I'll be.
  • Carlos, That is interesting, and I hadn't remembered that. I typically try to avoid that part of the city as much as possible, although I have been there more recently because of my friend's cinema tastes.
  • Taylor
    I use to live in San Francisco and there I loved AMC but every now and then i would have to go Cimemark(I actually work there for a bit). I resonantly moved to Idaho so now I have been going to Edwards witch is part of Regal and I really enjoy how each screen has a different theme to it. I think I mite like It more than AMC now so I think I will move my loyalty to Edwards.
  • April
    I am a card holder of both but when I moved there are no Regal in my area so AMC gets all my points and there popcorn is great.
  • Edward
    Here in Morgantown, WV we have a Carmike Cinema, a Hollywood Theater, and the independent Warner Theater downtown. Most of the time I go to Carmike, because my wheelchair gets me in free. (Apparently this is a nationwide policy of Carmike.) As an added bonus my local Carmike has digital projection. Warner is my #2. It's the oldest movie theater in the Morgantown area. They get more of the independent/art films, as well as having limited runs of classic films (Hitchcock's Vertigo opens this Friday for a one-week run) and serving as a second-run theater for major studio releases. I saw "The Painted Veil" there. Hollywood is #3. I've gone there a couple of times when the local comic book shop has had a group get-together for a film on opening night (Spider-Man 3, Dark Knight). Otherwise, I mostly only go there if the movie I want to see is not at the Carmike or the Warner. There are others, including an independent cinema in Fairmont that I sometimes visit, but they're not statistically significant. :)
  • Raymond
    In my town in NE Oklahoma, there is only one theater, The Allred. It is an independant theater, and I love it. I could drive to another city close by to go to either a B & B or a Cinemark theater, but I like the theater in Pryor. They still pop the corn in coconut oil, use real butter topping, and they treat movie going as an experience. They have fantastic DTS sound and 5 screens, so there is some choice, and the management strives to make your movie a pleasant experience. I don't think it matters what chain your theater belongs to, all that matters is if you are pleased with the overall experience of attending that particular theater.
  • chuck
    When Regel used to have a cinema here in vicksburg ms for over twenty years but now in the early 2000s they sold their mall cinema to a cheapy chain which got not all the movies. When there was feud between CBL Associates and Village Theartes, CBL closed the town's only cinema. Now the mall cinema has a new tenant: Wilcox Theatres. But I don't really support brand chains I go where the movie is playing. Like in Destin,Florida I experince Rave Theatres which is state of art. I don't really go by the brand chain.
  • Capn Rob
    I live in Boulder, Colorado. It's suppose to be an "Arts Friendly" kinda town but as of last year, we have one multiplex. I would love to have a choice of chains.
  • chuck
    That's what some of the locals would love to have here in Vicksburg. More choices but the larger chains have passed up Vicksburg becouse of a variety of reasons. One of them being a bad service rept. But one mall cinema isn't going to last forever. A friend of mind told his kids would love to see a stand alone box cinema like other communties have.

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