In case you missed it, independent Texas theater chain Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas gained national prominence last week after four million YouTube viewers watched their “No-Texting PSA.” The “public service announcement” features an audio recording of a voicemail complaint left by an irate customer. The customer was previously thrown out of the theater for persistently breaking the company’s long-standing policy of no texting on cellphones while the movie is playing.
While customer complaints are normally not the sort of thing companies are eager to publicize - in this case, it works! As you will see, this PSA (public service announcement) is an excellent marketing vehicle to reinforce Alamo Drafthouse’s unique selling proposition to its target audience while advancing both its brand identity and awareness. It’s also a great example of the power of authenticity in advertisement.
To fully appreciate the marketing message, it’s important to first understand the company’s background.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, started off in 1997 as a second-run movie theater in Austin offering the then unique combination of beer and a movie. CEO Tim League wanted to create a movie experience (for movie buffs) he felt was lacking in large chain cinemas. The company, which now runs 9 theaters, caters to movie goers who are seeking an unparalleled movie-watching experience - one more akin to watching a movie in your living room with other movie buffs as opposed to traditional chain theaters like Harkins, Cinemark, and AMC. To reinforce this unique selling proposition, the company does the following:
• Invests in the latest and greatest in projection and sound technology.
• Curates unique content - viewing cult classics of the past alongside select current blockbusters.
• Serves gourmet food and beer. Chef created snacks and entrees and microbrews.
• Refuses to show advertisements during the show - except ironic 1960’s Charles Bronson cologne ads.
• Hosts unique events like “Quote Along” nights - where patrons are encouraged to dress in costume and shout out quotes to popular cult movies of the past.
• Maintains a zero tolerance policy for talking or cellphone use during the movie. Here’s a look at how the policy developed http://youtu.be/Lkhcqhb1gU4
Together, these activities serve to create a brand experience that is more fulfilling to its intended demographic than its competition. Their efforts have been recognized with several accolades: Coolest Movie Theater in the World by Wired Magazine, #1 Theater in America by Entertainment Weekly, One of the Best Theaters in the Country by Fandango.com.
With the company’s background in context, let’s watch the marketing message.
Warning: though the following is the censored version, it still may be not safe for work.
So what works about this ad? First, the music (a driving rock beat) and humor found in the message establish an edgy, more adult, brand attitude - different from the look and feel of a Harkin’s Cinema ad. Second, it focuses on one major point of differentiation for the brand that its intended audience cares about - an uninterrupted moviegoing experience. Finally, the real stroke of ironic genius is the PSA’s ability to turn an irate, dissatisfied customer into an unlikely spokesperson for the brand. Due to its authenticity, her emphatically negative testimonial is a more credible endorsement for the brand than any company-paid spokesperson’s plea.
Some have argued that the irate customer’s testimonial may turn off some future customer’s from patronizing of Alamo Drafthouse. I think there is validity to those claims. Alamo Drafthouse will likely lose some potential customers over this PSA. However, in this scenario, the company benefits more by strengthening its appeal to its target customers than it risks losing out on potential ones. By knowing one’s audience, and their preferences, calculated risks like this one can pay huge dividends!
To close, here are a few words from Tim League recapping the experience of the PSA.
- By Mike Logan
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