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In this week’s episode, I rant about the movie going experience, the marketing surrounding it, and how’s it’s gone from distraction to infraction.

You can either listen to this post via podcast:

Or read it as a blog post:

Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie

I went to the movies to see the new blockbuster WANTED starring Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman during its opening weekend. My review? A great summer action movie that played out as The Matrix meets Office Space. Very slick. Very enjoyable.

But NOT so enjoyable was the process leading up to the movie. The pre-game, if you will, was unbearable.

Remember the claims that movie companies were placing subliminal messages (Drink Coca Cola) in their pre-movie intros? They were attempting to get you to buy something without you even knowing it.

You were forced to sit in the semi-dark theatre, chomping on popcorn, and actually (gasp!) talking to the person you came with. Cheesy music played in the background while you waited for the previews.

So it was a minor breakthrough when theatres came up with the idea to show you amusing, time-passing ‘Movie Scramble’ games.

The next step was an ad for the local pizza joint or tavern that looked like they simply scanned in the print ad that they ran in the phone book that year, and put it up on the big screen.

But all that has changed…

Now you’re getting full-featured commercials and highly produced movie shorts pitching products for minutes on end. And it doesn’t stop with the theaters simply bringing in revenue from outside businesses.

They’re in on the game as well, pitching the fact that you can watch a standup routine of a comedian I’ve never heard of, movie-style. This strikes me as a weird genre. I can listen to stand-up on Sirius Radio or on podcasts and still get the jokes. Or I can have the full experience with a boisterous crowd at one of a dozens standup shows in Manhattan.

But really? Paying money to go to a movie theater to watch a comedian perform on screen?

Even the message to turn off your cell phones was an ad. There’s a giant 30 foot screen saying Shut Off Your Cell Phones. Everyone is looking at the screen. There is nowhere else to look. We get it. We’re supposed to turn off our phones. There’s still going to be that one moron that forgets, but we understand.

So why is the message up there not for 5 or 10 seconds, but 30 seconds or more? Why of course… it’s the glowing, pulsating AT&T logo at the bottom.

Really? That’s where their money is best spent? Do you think anyone, anywhere is signing up for a specific cell phone carrier based on seeing their logo on a Shut Off Your Phone movie promo?

How does that conversation go?

Marketing exec # 1 says: You know boss, we’ve heard from people in the field. Research shows buyers are really confused with our smart phones, they don’t know the difference between the Moto Q, the Blackjack, the Palm Centro, the 4 Blackberry models, or the Treo. We recommend allocating some marketing dollars to make up some collateral so people can easily read about the advantages of each model. What do you think?

Marketing exec # 2 says: No, I have a better idea. We don’t want to help people that are already in our store ready to buy and use our phones. Instead, lets pick a random place like a movie theatre, and put up our logo on the screen that tells everyone to TURN OFF THEIR PHONES. That would be a huge success.

Know what my suggestion is? Give that money back and cut the price of text messages on the iPhone. A recent TechCrunch article that got popular on Digg computed that the cost of text messages under the new iPhone plan was $1,310 per megabyte.

Apple iPhone

OK, again, we get it. You’re subsidizing the cost of the iPhone. But do you have to take ALL our money? I have a feeling that it doesn’t cost you upwards of $20 a month in expenses for users to send a few hundred texts at 160bytes of data.

Some people complain about the number of ‘real’ movie trailers that they show, but that’s been well-documented, and most people enjoy those, so I’ll give them a pass. Ditto for paying $9 for a ginormous package of teeth-rotting gummi bears or bushel of popcorn and a 55 gallon drum of Pepsi. It’s been that way for years and the difference is, you have a choice. You can choose not eat or very easily snag a 99 cent bag of Twizzlers at the convenience store across the street.


But the number of commercials was relentless, with some even being shown twice. At times it was hard to distinguish between a commercial and a new trailer. That’s because it was a trailer. As a commercial. As opposed to the trailers that were trailers.

But to my surprise, the unwanted marketing experience transcended from the screen to the theater itself. I heard a voice in the aisle behind me, and turned to see a representative from the theater. She was making some kind of announcement, and I feared that we had lost air conditioning power. Earlier while I was waiting in the lobby, they made an announcement that the 3pm showing was still on, but that one particular theater in the building did not have air conditioning. Kind of a problem on a 90 degree day.

This was confirmed to me as I witnessed 2-3 ladders crowded near the entrance, with only maintenance workers legs visible as their unseen torso disappeared into the ceiling, frantically trying to repair some hidden generator as the temps neared triple digits outside. Or maybe they were just manequin legs giving us a false sense of work being done. Either way, cool air – and cash — was escaping the building.

But no, the representative wasn’t informing us of any problems in the theater. Not content with making us sit through ads, they were now going to physically take our cash. Along with a handicapped male in an electric wheelchair, they proceeded to slowly pace the aisles – Sunday church style – asking for cash donations to the Boys and Girls Club. Of course this charity is a fine organization. I am sure they do wonderful things. My heart goes out to the individual in the wheelchair. Please please, be generous and donate to the Boys and Girls Club.

But I prefer to donate to charities of my own accord. As an athlete by nature, I freely give to friends and co-workers running or biking for a good cause. Because people close to me have battled cancer, I’m focusing more of my donations on organizations that are working on a cure. But to solicit money from me simply because we were an easy mark – a captive audience that could not get away – seemed exploitive, both for the handicapped worker, and their targets. I can tell you the audience was visibly awkward.

Another blogger once wrote (apologies for not having the link to reference) that the difference here was that we paid money for one thing (to see a movie), and because we had, we were entitled to that and just that – a movie going experience. We didn’t ask to see commercials before the film started. We can’t get away. Forget about timing it to come on right as the previews start. On a Saturday in downtown Manhattan? That’s fine if you bring your first row neck brace.

On TV, there is an understanding. You watch free TV, the content is subsidized by commercials. Conversely you can pay for HBO or Showtime and see no ads. Surf your favorite website for free? You’ll likely see some banner ads. Pay for Sirius radio? Most stations have no advertising.

Yes, there was a time when audiences were concerned that corporations were subliminally selling their products. There was a time when theatres were happy to distract you with word puzzles and trivia. That time is long gone. The theatres have crossed the line from distraction to all out infraction. They know they have you. And now you can’t miss it, and you can’t get away.

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