South African cities are not blessed with wide pavements and long boulevards that enjoy major pedestrian footfall, as found in Europe and the United States. While our pioneering city planners may have envisaged a bustling high street, today South Africa is identified more by a serious mall culture with a plethora of shopping centres and strip malls. Sandton City and Eastgate in Gauteng, the Waterfront in the Western Cape and Gateway in KwaZulu-Natal are a few of our large shopping complexes. Statistics show that every December over three million visitors are expected at each mall.
And parallel to this has been the growth of a particular out of home media sector: mall media.
“The mall is a particularly South African ‘thing’,” says Ken Varejes, CEO of Primedia Unlimited. The company’s subsidiary, Primall Media, operates specifically in the mall media space, having capitalised on the fact that shopping centres are significantly better frequented than most other ‘public’ spaces. And people go to malls to shop. Hence, a consumer is open to digest advertising messages, probably more so than at any other time.
Varejes listed some of the drawcards of advertising in the mall space, and not only because of the “enormous” foot traffic: malls are closer to the point of purchase; they are considered a safe environment; and advertising is often less cluttered, allowing customers to engage more with a brand.
Mall media is a growing trend overseas, too. Research conducted on one of the world’s largest malls, The Mall of America in Minnesota, shows why this sector is so lucrative for advertisers. The research found that 94% of American adults visit malls each month and shoppers spend a minimum of $71 per visit. Also, 80% of shoppers make at least one purchase and shoppers spend over an hour in the mall. Teens made 40% more trips to the mall than any other shopper.
Malls provide a captive audience in a visually stimulating environment, but advertisers need to ‘hook’ customers with creative messaging. According to Dave McKenzie of Boo! Media, the downside of enormous footfall is overcrowding and the likelihood of missing strategically placed advertising. What seems to work is interacting with consumers in conjunction with banners and boards. Clever activations are an example of this, according to McKenzie.
He says that the growth of the digital format is irrevocably changing the face of mall media. “The touch screen information pods are very innovative. When a shopper is looking for a shoe shop, for instance, an ad specifically related to the customer’s desire for shoes would also appear (along with the information and directions to various shoe shops). The pod gathers information and is able to specifically target the customer.”
But, McKenzie notes, this technology is not in South Africa yet, although it is on its way.
Most importantly, he says, about 76% of the decisions on what to purchase are not made at home or even en route. They are made at the point of purchase.
“This is why mall advertising is so important – a customer can see a brand on billboards or hear about it on the radio, but their final decision to purchase a product is made at the mall. It’s as if mall media is the ultimate ‘hook’ in the entire communications mix.”
Sarel du Plessis, executive director of Out of Home Media South Africa (OHMSA), says that mall advertising needs to entertain. Effective media for this includes escalators, lifts, digital screens and bathrooms. He gives an example of using the mall space effectively in Boo! Media’s placing of a Sissy Boy advert on a lift: On one door of the lift was a woman looking at her reflection, which was depicted on the other lift door. The messaging was powerful because it was placed so cleverly: the tagline was ‘Love Yourself’.
Du Plessis says, “People want to shop, yes, but they want more of an experience. To shop for groceries, or chemist supplies, for instance, need not be purely a functional and practical activity. People can interact with the brand; they can be shown its added value by brand ambassadors or something similar, for example. People want to feel happy and proud about the purchase decisions they make.”
How the lucrative rights work in malls
Varejes explains that most mall owners will give the rights to sell advertising to one or two media owners. “The mall management may give the mall interiors and parkades to one concessionaire, and the exterior road to others. But it is likely that one media owner will enjoy the full rights to sell advertising.”
Recently the international brand Top Shop opened in Sandton City, and for the weeks leading up to its opening, those driving past the shopping complex saw massive Top Shop building wraps. Because Top Shop would be considered an “anchor tenant” bringing increased footfall, they do not need to pay for the advertising on the shopping centre’s façade, explains Varejes. In a situation like this, shopping centre owners will give ‘anchor tenants’ this advertising space to attract all their potential clientele.
“In many cases the power base (the ability of the store to draw a significant amount of shoppers to the centre where it is situated) of the tenant will dictate what kind of deal is struck in terms of advertising. Most malls will showcase the main attraction shops on the exterior to ensure customers are aware that these regional malls have the high profile shops inside them. This will be negotiated by the mall owner and the tenant with the advertising concessionaire not really part of this,” he notes.
But, there are specific rules as to what brands are allowed to advertise, both inside and outside the mall. “Many high profile malls will not allow FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) products [to be advertised] in key areas and some mall owners will not allow alcohol [advertising] in any of their environments, including the restaurant spaces. This varies mall by mall,” says Varejes.
Sandton City allows only lifestyle brands, for example. McKenzie says that the “integrity of each mall’s personality is key (therefore they only allow certain advertising)”.
Many South Africans head to their favourite malls not just to buy a particular item, but for the experience of being there. More often than not, they don’t leave with just one item but a number of bags full of merchandise. It has been entertainment, fun in their home-from-home.
American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg speaks of “the third place”, a space independent from home and work, which is essential to community and public life. The mall is one such third place.
Oldenburg describes their importance. “The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends.”
This underpins much of the mall’s essence, and hence should inform mall advertising.
This story was first published in the February 2013 issue of The Media magazine.