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Summer 2009 Marketing Song and Dance

Consider this: Nearly 100 million votes were cast during the American Idol finals this year. Roughly the same number of people log in to their account on Facebook, the social networking website, every day.

A New York-based company has brought these two phenomena together to create what it calls “360° marketing”—a combination of a reality contest and social networking cultures. And it starts at the mall.

MallTalent, a subsidiary of EHO Entertainment, has created a kiosk where mall visitors can register to participate in the “featured contest”—a contest that the sponsor wants to conduct to market a particular brand. Sponsors MallTalent is targeting include major national brands. For example, Victoria’s Secret can sponsor a “Most Sexy” contest, and Apple, a “Best Mary J Blige contest” to promote iPod. At its first deployment at Palisades Center in West Nyack, NY, it featured a singing contest sponsored by mall tenant and restaurant chain, Fire and Ice.

How it works

The kiosk can also be set up to sell products, which visitors can browse while waiting their turn to perform. When a person’s name is called out, he/she can enter a stage and perform, and the video is played in real time on the large screen in the mall. Those gathered around can watch and enjoy the performance. Shortly after, a 45-second video of the performance is uploaded to MallTalent’s Web server, where registered users can vote on it. The video can be embedded on a user’s MySpace or Facebook page, and the link can be emailed to a list of contacts as well. At the end of the set period, the person with the most votes wins a prize—pre-determined by the sponsor.

Andrew Landis, chief executive officer of MallTalent, says there’s another winner—the sponsor. With MallTalent, he says, sponsors get three levels of marketing: at the mall with digital signage, experiential marketing during the contest itself, and online social marketing on the Internet.

Of these, experiential marketing is the most personal form of marketing, where a consumer engages with the brand to become part of it, says Landis. For example, if participating in a Gap promotion for “best dressed person,” just being in the kiosk makes you a brand “word-of-mouth,” says Landis.

The MallTalent network works like an upside down funnel, says Landis, where a small number of people at the mall experience the brand by participating in the contests. Then the funnel widens when a large number of people watch the video online— spreading the marketing reach.

LeeMarie Dell’Accio, director of marketing at Palisades Center, says the MallTalent model has been successful at her mall, where it was deployed last December. With traffic nearing 200 people on weekends, MallTalent had to move from a smaller space to a larger one at the mall. More than 100,000 people viewed the videos online, and many of those viewing came to the MallTalent Web site from Facebook and MySpace, says Landis.

Dell’Accio says MallTalent complements the ambience at Palisades Center, which features 14 sit-down restaurants, two movie theaters, a hockey rink, and a bowling alley. “Retailers have had much success in partnering with MallTalent,” says Dell’Accio, citing the example of Fire and Ice sponsoring a singing contest at the MallTalent kiosk.

A good fit for malls

For malls, MallTalent is a huge plus because of the various levels of exposure it gets. Not only is there a buzz in the community about the contests, there’s also the online branding, where the mall’s logo is placed above each video, and clicking the link takes the user to the mall’s Web site. “MallTalent is adding value to the mall,” Landis says, “we’re looking at a relationship where we’re equally valued partners.”

In fact, when MallTalent approached the Palisades Center in New York for its first kiosk, the mall management understood that this had the potential to be a huge traffic draw. Retail leases usually contain clauses that prohibit the use of audio and video that’s distracting. “But given the fact that this was a concept they understood very clearly was a traffic builder, they said, ‘This is exactly what we want; we’ll waive the rules,’” says Landis.

The kiosk will be a value addition to the mall itself, and can be a selling point to retailers, he says. The kiosks are plug-and-play, which means that a brand can decide to create a promotional event, give MallTalent the specifications, and have it execute the contest.

Retailers can choose to use the MallTalent kiosk at specific times of the day—perhaps by featuring baby food/clothing brands at noon, and brands catering to juniors (or other demographics) over the weekends.

Crowd control

As for the danger of shoppers hanging out at the kiosk instead of spending dollars at retailers, Landis says that hasn’t been the case. He adds, retailers can conduct contests at MallTalent to direct traffic to their stores. Dell’Accio echoes the sentiment. “We don’t feel that MallTalent has distracted shoppers whatsoever.” If anything, the kiosk acts as a form of entertainment for the shoppers, she adds.

And the recent debate about discouraging teens from hanging out at the malls doesn’t faze Landis either. He says that not all contests will be geared toward teens. “We want to be relevant to all demographics,” he says. In the afternoons, for example, the kiosks might run contests for brands that appeal to soccer moms. He notes, the traffic is already there, and MallTalent deftly draws the traffic to their kiosk. “Our job is to engage [the mall traffic] and make them interested in our message.”

Set to grow

MallTalent is looking to go places with its kiosks. The company plans to expand to at least eight large retail markets by the end of 2009. Ensuring a large footprint makes the concept more attractive for national brands, and Landis adds that using MallTalent costs a tenth of what a traditional marketing campaign does.

MallTalent is testing different technology platforms, and is planning to soon launch a concept that allows consumers to immerse themselves in movie scenes—a whole new level of experiential marketing.

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Meera Rajagopalan

Meera Rajagopalan is a freelance writer who writes for publications in India and the U.S. She has extensive experience reporting on niche businesses and can be reached at

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