Consider this hypothetical afternoon of lunch and a movie:
You grab the ticket stub to park in a structure near the restaurant. The ticket is an ad for your local Volkswagen dealer. The paper place mat at the restaurant encourages you to check out the new Buick Rendezvous. You head to the theater where you can no longer avoid seeing some 40-foot-tall vehicle on the screen - in this case, a Cadillac Escalade.
You can't escape to the air either. Look up and you just might see the Saturn blimp pass over, even lighted at night. Jump on an airplane later this year and you could become a captive audience to live TV with customized commercials.
With traditional media costs and clutter rising, savvy auto marketers are seeking new and cheaper space in which to advertise. Automakers' spending on measured media has been flat the past couple of years, averaging $8.36 billion for the industry, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Auto marketers say spending will remain flat the rest of this year, so they are trying to get the biggest bang for their buck in ways that break from the clutter.
"It isn't just different media choices," said Jim McDowell, vice president of marketing for BMW of North America Inc. "So much advertising is sold on the basis of demographics, we wonder if we're getting as close to prospects as we could."
Led by the auto industry, national advertising on movie screens grew 20 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2000, said Christine Brantley Stafford, spokeswoman for National Cinema Network Inc. in Kansas City, Mo. She declined to provide specific numbers.
Auto marketers say they increasingly are using the medium because their ads get high retention.
"No one goes into a movie theater attempting to multitask," McDowell said, emphasizing that people pay attention to the movie screen. "It's one of the most sensory-rich environments you'll ever be in, and you're not necessarily expecting advertising," which he believes can make the advertising more memorable.
BMW has been running commercials in theaters to promote BMWfilms.com, a Web site at which consumers can watch five action films starring BMWs. Other National Cinema clients include Nissan North America Inc. and Ford Motor Co.
"TV recall (of ads) is hovering between 17 and 20 percent, whereas ours is 80 percent," said Laura Adler, vice president of marketing and public relations for National Cinema Network. "We run up to three minutes of programming before a movie and we try to offer limited exclusivity. For example, Ford may be the only domestic."
As more theaters adopt digital movie formats, Adler said, advertisers will be able to place their ads with certain movies. Right now advertisers can place ads only in certain markets, and National Cinema decides the theaters and movies.
National Cinema this fall will beam digital ads to 82 screens out of 10,000 in its network, Adler said.
The company also offers clients additional exposure in theater lobbies, including signs and, next year, Internet kiosks. A campaign involving all services offered by National Cinema can cost from $250,000 to $2 million, depending on the length of the campaign, Adler said.
But BMW isn't interested in such a campaign. "If we bought too much at one theater, that would be overwhelming," McDowell said. "The goal is to surprise and delight."
Internet kiosks, such as the ones National Cinema plans, seem to be popping up everywhere, but automakers are slow to advertise on them.
ParkMedia LLC in May signed an exclusive licensing contract with online banker E*Trade Bank to put Internet kiosks in large office buildings.
The kiosks are more than automatic teller machines, said Janet Levine, president and CEO of ParkMedia in Los Angeles. "They have the ability for a person to get an automotive loan, a mortgage loan, trade stocks - not just pull $40 to $100 out," she said.
Levine, whose company handles everything from parking ticket advertising to events in places such as building lobbies and parking structures for clients that include Audi of America Inc. and Saab Cars USA Inc., has not signed automakers for the kiosk service yet. "My intention is to brand it in the auto industry and call it the Saturn booth or the Dodge Ram booth," she said.
That could be a tough sell. Former client Honda of America, for one, isn't interested.
"We want to direct the customer to the dealer or our Web site," said Eric Conn, Honda's assistant vice president of national automobile advertising. "This sounds like a middleman."
A campaign using all of the company's media typically costs $500,000, Levine said.
Jeep is tapping into the Internet on a mobile level.
For its new Liberty sport-utility, Jeep has been advertising on personal digital assistants, such as PalmPilots, through AvantGo Inc., a provider of mobile software and service in San Mateo, Calif. In doing so, Jeep is continuing a trend led by Volvo among automakers.
"We get product exposure and ask people if they want more information. Then we'll give them a Matchbox Jeep Liberty," said Diane Jackson, Jeep advertising manager.
The ad has been delivered more than 1 million times to personal digital assistants that connect to the Web using AvantGo's mobile Internet service. The personal digital assistant user can choose to click on the mini banner ad or ignore it, just like on the Web.
Jackson said she is targeting a median age of 37 or 38; typical owners of personal digital assistants are 24 to 42. Through the medium, she also expects to reach people with an average annual income of $60,000.
AvantGo spokeswoman Robin Shivereck said the company charges an average of $50 per thousand advertising downloads. That would mean a cost to Jeep of more than $50,000 for the Liberty ad. About 10 million people use personal digital assistants in the United States, Shivereck said, and that number is expected to expand to 13 million by the end of the year.
Said Jackson: "PDAs are just a beginning for us. It's up to what the customer will allow us to do. We put a set of questions out there; they respond. It comes back to our 'hand raiser' database; we'll send customized information."
When consumers are flying in airplanes later this year, they could watch customized advertising to go along with live news and sports programming.
"We want to do live stuff because most travelers have seen the movie but haven't had the chance to read the morning paper," said David Berman, CEO of Airia Ltd., a fledgling provider of live airline TV service in Annapolis, Md. He has no automotive advertisers signed up but is working on it.
"This is a business that has not achieved its potential because advertisers have not been given say-so of where their ads appear and when," he said, adding that airlines charge between $20 to $60 per thousand passengers for advertising on pre-recorded TV programs.
The idea has piqued the interest of BMW's McDowell, but only if he can get his message out in the business- and first-class sections of the plane.
As McDowell puts it: "It just depends on the routes and where in the airplane."