In the Liberty Midlands Mall in Pietermaritzburg, elderly ladies can be seen every evening in takkies and tracksuit pants, chatting and power walking up and down the kilometre-long concourse.
Perhaps daily exercise is not a normal pursuit in most shopping centres, but it serves to show how, for South Africans, malls have become so much more than just a place to shop. And the fact that people are not only at malls to spend money, but are also enjoying their leisure time, make them a prime place for advertising, says Travis Brown, general manager of Mall Active, specialists in mall activations.
“Malls are such a big phenomenon in South Africa. They’re our community meeting areas,” says Brown. “In a lot of cities, we don’t really go to parks because it’s not safe. And we’ve lost our high streets. The place you spend that leisure time is in the mall. We call it the third space. The first space is home, the second is school or work, and the third is that place where you can go to have fun and relax.”
Mall Active’s research shows people can spend up to three or four hours at a time in this ‘third space’, whether eating, shopping or going to the movies. “There are some great advantages to marketing in this space. The first is that people are already in buying mode, so you can convert them into a shopper quicker. In a venue like a stadium, people are not there to buy: they want to watch the rugby,” says Brown.
“Also, malls cater for people during their leisure time, so they have time to stop and chat to you about the product. The potential to purchase is higher.”
Those involved in advertising in these spaces know that fatigue is a very real possibility. Consumers are bombarded with advertisements in most out of home environments – do they notice media at a mall, or do they block it out? Are they too focused on their shopping and other pursuits to pay attention to ubiquitous signage?
Primall head of sales and marketing Lee Curtis says they are aware of this potential for fatigue. “What we try to do [to prevent fatigue] is give advertisers nodes in the mall, where they take ownership. We try to limit having too many advertisers clustered in one space together,” he says.
These ‘convergence nodes’ are in high traffic parts of the mall like entrances and exits, for maximum impact. Also if there are fewer advertisers in one node, consumers are more likely to notice them. And “the closer you get to the actual purchase decision, the stronger the message becomes”.
Primall is a division of Primedia Unlimited and owns branding rights at upmarket malls like Hyde Park Corner in Johannesburg and Gateway in Umhlanga.
As well as the spaces within the malls, mall media companies also have the rights to spaces leading to the mall, like booms, lightboxes, escalators, lifts and hanging banners. They also offer digital advertising opportunities, like the interactive mall directory screens.
Curtis says a lot of attention is paid to keeping the advertising aesthetically pleasing. “We work closely with the mall management and the mall marketing teams. We designate areas that are good for branding. The earlier we get in on the process, the more aesthetically pleasing we can make the result.”
His advice to advertisers to avoid fatigue is to make an advertising package that is as high quality as possible. “If you make the package attractive, you will get the results. Creative should be changed regularly and it should be strong and simple and tailormade for out of home. Keep it simple, bold and striking, with not too much copy,” he says. Effective mall advertising often supports campaigns in other media, especially TV.
“The profile of mall advertising has grown tremendously over the last four years and creative keeps getting better,” Curtis adds.
Malls themselves have their own guidelines and policies regarding advertising. Hyde Park is very strict about the amount of advertising allowed, to keep the ambience of the mall exclusive, says the mall’s marketing manager Michael Wilson.
“It is a deliberate policy that Hyde Park has so little advertising. And there are certain forms that are banned altogether. No one is allowed to hand out flyers, for example, because this can be intrusive of the personal space of the shoppers. We have a discerning upmarket clientele who don’t want their calming, quiet space [invaded].”
Inside the mall, advertising is restricted to tenants. There is also media space outside facing the busy motorways where brands are allowed to advertise, as long as they are not in competition with any tenants. The same principle applies to the exhibitions that Hyde Park hosts. “And if, for instance, Dion Wired sell Samsung TVs, we will allow Samsung to come in and exhibit, but if they make any sales, these must go through Dion Wired,” says Wilson. Tenants also hold exhibits and activations, often at the other end of the mall to their shop location, in order to drive foot traffic their way.
Hyde Park has to approve any advertising artwork. “We have previously rejected even some top-end brands,” says Wilson. “Nothing can be too controversial. But generally these brands have very strict controls anyway.
“We could make tons of money if we let in more advertisers. But the positioning of Hyde Park Corner is exclusive and we’re not going to damage our brand in the long term in exchange for a quick buck.” Their positioning is paying off, he says, as Hyde Park’s foot traffic increases monthly.
Positioning and a less-is-more approach help to prevent the fatigue of static displays. Activations are another effective method, offering an engaging and immersive experience for the customer. Brown and Curtis say that activations are particularly effective and are very popular with clients, though they are expensive in the long term. Brown says consumers get especially excited about handling the latest tech gadgets, and about car activations. You get to get in the car, feel the leather. It’s like going to the dealer, but without the pressure of the dealer,” he says.
Giving consumers an experience is what it’s all about, says Angus Murray-Smith, director at Grapevine Media. Grapevine has rolled out two kinds of Podz, freestanding ventilated glass booths that can be used as baby changing stations, or as smoking rooms where nicotine addicts can get their fix while other mall goers are protected from second-hand smoke.
The Podz can be branded. “And their function can be divorced from the message: you don’t have to have baby products branded on the side of the baby-changing booth. It’s like a functional billboard,” says Murray-Smith. “But it’s unlike a billboard in that you are able to physically engage with it. People will look at it curiously – and isn’t that what branding is all about?
“If people are engaging with curiosity and interest, you will stand out among the visual pollution.”
Grapevine currently has eight Podz at malls in Gauteng and are looking to expand. “Our objective is to add value – to the consumer, of course, but also to the property owners. Billboards don’t add value. Beyond the rental income, they don’t do anything for the property owners and the only value they have for the consumer is that they communicate a message.”
Attitudes to mall media among shoppers interviewed by The Media ranged from indifference to enthusiasm. There was almost unanimous disapproval, however, of cosmetics activations where sales reps aggressively solicit the engagement of shoppers. Brown says these give companies like his a bad name and actually contravene the industry’s codes, which say that the consumer should approach the advertisers, not the other way round.
“We have three seconds to engage the consumer, so we need to be creative and different. But we also need to respect their boundaries,” he says.
All commentators agree that mall advertising is growing. And with overseas research showing that 70% of purchasing decisions are made in the retail space, well thought out interventions can attract consumers.
This story was first published in the February 2014 issue of The Media Magazine.