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Mall tours are going digital


Natalie Zmuda

Advertising Age

June 12, 2008

Simon Property Group is aiming to make something that was once considered a promotional event that only reached consumers for a matter of hours into a fully integrated, interactive event that creates buzz online long before -- and long after -- the final performance.

"In the beginning, the tour would come into market, we would pre-promote it and the experience would be there for that first day, anywhere from four to six hours," said Cathi Weiner, senior-VP of Simon Brand Ventures. "It has evolved into a stronger marketing platform, with a very robust online strategy."

Online presence grows
While the company dabbled in digital technologies last year, this year, executives say it's being taken to a new level. Simon dTour Live, which kicks off on Friday, will be the company's most interactive yet. More resources were dedicated to the development of the tour's MySpace and Facebook presence, as well as its own website. A full-time blogger will chronicle the tour, as well as serve as a host at the events.

At each event, there will also be more interactive elements, which will serve the dual purpose of getting the teens involved and providing Simon with plenty of proprietary content for its sites and OnSpot Digital Network, which is broadcast in 50 malls.

Coca-Cola will sponsor the Coke Photo Booth, where consumers can take pictures with a simulated version of Lebron James or other Olympic athletes. And it will have its new touch-screen vending machines, where consumers can download music and wallpaper, among other things, on display.

Getting in on the act
A separate video booth, will allow consumers to record their own performances, which will be posted to the dTour Live website, where fans can vote for their favorite. Fans can also text messages to be displayed on a screen during the performances.

Tod Dalberg, VP-business development at Simon Brand Ventures, said that about two years ago the company began thinking about ways to extend dTour Live beyond the mall. "Obviously [consumers are] in our malls, but [we wanted to figure out how to] touch them through online, through text messaging, in all the places that they live outside of the mall," he said.

The resulting program has increased the visibility of the event, as well as its performers and partners, executives said. ABC Family, Coca-Cola and Sprint are key sponsors of the event. Talent for this year's event includes All American Rejects, Kate Voegele and The Switches. In the past, Ashlee Simpson, Taylor Swift and Brooke Hogan have been headliners.

Attendance surges
Average attendance at the tours has doubled and continues to grow. Just a few years ago the average venue attracted between 1,000 and 1,100, while last year average attendance reached 2,500, with some locations drawing between 4,000 and 5,000 fans. The tour has driven enough sales of its artists' CDs to affect standings on music charts, Ms. Weiner said.

"Clearly it's beneficial for Simon to deliver this type of programming for the mall," Ms. Weiner said. "The benefit to the artists and the brands is not only touching the consumer face to face but also having that connection on all of the additional media channels where the consumer is."




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