Although the concept of concessions merchandising dates back to the early days of exhibition, the concept’s biggest evolution in the modern era came with the introduction of movie graphic collectibles. Seemingly overnight, collectible cups and popcorn tubs started making their way to multiplexes across the nation—a trend that Jim McGinness, co-founder and CEO of RCM Media, attributes to the power of 1994’s The Lion King.
“We had done campaigns around a couple of other films before, but that’s when it really took off,” says McGinness, whose company is being recognized as the 2019 Vendor of the Year at this year’s Geneva Convention.
McGinness and his partner at Promotional Marketing Group, Mark Osborn, developed promotional merchandise when they were at PMG. The idea was simple enough: manufacture movie graphic collectibles for cinemas looking for an enticing way to upsell patrons at the concession stand. According to McGinness, the Disney connection came through in large part from an introduction by AMC Theatres founder Stan Durwood. With Disney’s promotional rights settled, the pair was confident their branded concessions materials would be a hit with audiences.
“We were putting movie graphics on the large collectible popcorn tubs, so everyone going to an AMC was sizing up,” remembers McGinness. “We started running those three or four weeks ahead of the film’s release, so it was great exposure and advertising for the studio. People would take these items home with them and you’d see families take them to the beach; it was a walking billboard to help promote these films. It turned into a win-win situation for everybody: the public went home with a little piece of Hollywood, the theaters were increasing their per-caps with everyone sizing up, and the studio was getting additional marketing and exposure for their film.”
McGinness and Osborn left PMG in 2008 to create their own company, RCM Media. “We named it “Media” because we didn’t want to be known as just a concession supplier,” explains Osborn.” When we first started out, we would produce cups and popcorn tubs. Today we build integrated in-theater marketing and media campaigns around a concessions item.”
Those campaigns take a holistic approach across several channels. With a kid’s combo, for example, RCM uses a patented “Speed Pack,” which includes a collectible cup with a figurine topper. RCM takes this marketing technique beyond concessions packaging with on-screen spots, digital menu boards, lobby monitors, and point-of-sale material. “We build a whole campaign around that item,” says McGinness.
3-D collectible merchandise is one of the most successful recent trends in the sector. For RCM, which is distributing unique product for tentpole movies like Avengers and Star Wars, it’s been as an especially positive development. Whether it’s a popcorn tub in the shape of a storm trooper helmet, or a large soda cup shaped like a lightsaber, movie fans have reacted very positively to this new range of products. McGinness also says popular brands like Star Wars help drive collectible merchandise sales. “You can sell a popcorn tub shaped like Chewbacca’s head for more than a regular-sized tub.”
He continues, “On some occasions, RCM has even produced exclusive products for specific cinema chains. You know how competitive this industry can be. Major circuits don’t want to sell something that their competitor has, so we’re used to developing unique items when our clients ask for them.”
Always on the pulse of the next big innovation, RCM is rolling out what it considers the next frontier of concessions merchandising: augmented reality (AR). The company has partnered with Fuze Viewer to activate studio movie content with their products, enabling moviegoers to interact with their favorite characters on their phones when scanning RCM cups and tubs. Patrons can also experience a photo op with their favorite live-action hero and share it on social media. It becomes an immersive experience as soon as the patrons walk through the door.
After completing campaigns for roughly 300 films while working with all the major studios, McGinness says the future of the company will be led by a stream of new ideas. “We’re still in the concession packaging business but with a lot of new twists. We’re not copiers, we’re innovators,” he says. “Our total focus is on the movie theater channel. We’re not in stadiums or anywhere else; we’re totally focused on cinemas. 3-D promotion products and A.R. are the next frontier, and we will always be on the lookout for new ways to innovate in this industry.”