While a company press release breathlessly hyped the tray liners as a "new advertising medium," marketers have been running ads on diner placemats for years. In fact, that's how Mat Media got its start a little more than a year ago. "We only handled a few large restaurants and diners in the Baltimore and Washington area, and two million people per year were seeing the placemats," recalls Mat Media vice president Nick Kosmas. "The idea is to take that concept and roll it out nationally."
So far, the company has secured deals with seven mall owners/management companies operating 34 malls in 16 states. Kosmas expects to be in 60-70 malls by the end of the year; within two years, he hopes to have 25 percent of the country's malls participating in the program. He estimates current monthly impressions at 1.9 million and believes the company can double this figure by early 2004.
When asked if these goals are overly ambitious, Kosmas confidently runs off a list of reasons why he thinks the tray liners will prove an appealing venue for advertisers: "There are so many advertisers who don't have many options besides yellow page advertising, which is doesn't provide much of a return on your investment anymore. We can offer exclusivity - only one law firm or electrical contractor per tray liner. And when you look at the cost of radio and TV, we're going be able to offer a cost-per-thousand that can't be beat."
So far, the food court program has caught on mostly with local advertisers: roughly 75 percent of the ads are from local or regional businesses, with the other 25 percent coming from national brands. While Kosmas speaks about wanting to reverse that ratio, it seems as if local advertisers stand to realize more of a benefit from hawking their wares in the food court. Clearly a nearby chain of car dealerships has more to gain than, say, a well-established Procter & Gamble brand.
As for potential drawbacks, Kosmas stresses that Mat Media will not attempt to lure companies that compete with mall tenants - meaning that spend-happy electronics and clothing retailers are almost automatically eliminated from consideration. Still, he doesn't view this as a major concern.
"We're bringing in a client set that does not compete with the malls," he promises. "A lot of potential advertisers - insurance brokers, retirement communities - don't have a good [ad] medium right now. They're not getting much of a return on their investment from the Yellow Pages and other directories." As for the mall tenants themselves, Kosmas jokingly dismisses them as prospects: "They're already in the mall. And besides, they're probably spending most of their budget on rent."
Mat Media estimates that ads will get between 15 and 30 minutes of exposure per food-court diner. Pricing for the program is set at approximately a penny per view, though Kosmas is floating a pay-per-response pricing scheme for select national advertisers.