Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - Cinema Chain Loyalty
by Christopher Campbell
March 9, 2009
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.