Thanks for ruining my Thursday night, Hoyts

A miniature triumph of marketing that we take for granted should have resulted in me currently sitting in a Hoyts cinema seat enjoying Leo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island.

I’m not though. I’m writing this. Crossly.  

Just think about the chain of marketing that goes into getting a movie-goer to buy a ticket.

For starters, there’s the creation of a trailer. It must reflect the tone of the film it’s promoting, and show enough content to build anticipation yet not give too much away. That’s an art form in itself.

Then there needs to be the judgement call of the right movies for the trailer to run ahead of, which requires skilled knowledge of audience demographics.

At some point the PR kicks in. A few weeks ago, a critic from the Sydney Morning Herald will have received an invitation from Paramount Pictures to a screening. As a result, they watched the movie, and in the pre-planning we take for granted wrote a review to appear in the SMH’s Spectrum section.

Through the newspaper’s own marketing, I bought a copy on Saturday, noted from the cautiously worded, but positive, review that there was a twist and determined to watch the movie as soon as it opened, before I heard too much about it. The Sixth Sense was ruined for me because I left it too long and I don’t want to make that mistake again.

SMH: For what good it did me

Today the direct response advertising kicked in, again in the SMH. This time, it was a four column ad for Shutter Island, with the simple call to action: “Starts Today”. I stumbled upon it at about 6pm tonight, just as I was about to leave the office.

In a routine-because-we-expect-it piece of media planning, a four column ad for Hoyts sat next to it. The next showing was in 40 minutes at the nearby Hoyts at Sydney’s Broadway shopping centre. I decided I could get there, was briefly held up when the phone rang, and got going.

As it happens, this ad had been doubly effective – it was also persuading me to trial the destination for the first time.

I got there with about five minutes to spare.

I shot this:

Not a single ticket kiosk was open.

However there were three machines advertising the ability to both collect and buy tickets. All three were roped off. One of them had a sign taped to it with the not entirely helpful (or believable) message: “Sorry, not in use”.

A further sign at the abandoned tills had the additional message “Purchase tickets at the candy bar”. At least it didn’t patronise the customers with words it didn’t mean, like “please”.

I’m hopeless at estimating crowd numbers, but my guess is that there were around 100 people spread across about four queues. They were moving slowly, what with people buying tickets, drinks and snacks.

So I shot the video above and drifted away as there was no hope of catching the start of the movie. Others were doing the same.

When marketers at Hoyts (who must be good at their jobs to have got the crowd there in the first place) look at their numbers and ask themselves how they can sell a few more seats, I wonder if they’ll consider the obvious.

Minimum wage in Australia is about $15 an hour. That would be paid for from the ticket sale to the very first customer it avoids walking out of the door. Twice over by the time you add in the enormous mark-up on snacks from the candy bar, if you ever got there.

To look at it as the 5Ps of marketing, they got the first four right – Product, Price, Promotion and Physical distribution. The failure was in the People.

At the weekend, I’m going to give it another try. I know that if I go to my local Event cinema, there’s a pretty good chance of seeing the movie.

If I bump into you before then, I beg you: please don’t tell me the twist.

  • Update: On Friday night, less than 24 hours after posting this, I had a call from the person who heads up Paramount’s publicity operation in Australia to apologise for the experience (not that it was their fault). Over the weekend she dropped off a complimentary pass to see the movie – it was worth the wait. There’s been no response whatsoever from Hoyts though.

Tim Burrowes


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