Although they may not inspire the same level of audience loyalty as sports teams, causes and other types of properties, malls and similar types of developments bring an extremely valuable benefit to the marketing table: access to large numbers of consumers.

And those who sell the category will debate the loyalty issue, too.

“We have extreme fan loyalty. They frequent the mall on a regular basis and very much view it as their mall,” said Mikael Thygesen, CMO of Simon Property Group, Inc. and president of Simon Brand Ventures, the company’s business-to-consumer arm that sells sponsorships.

Like every other type of property, malls have not been immune to the economic downturn and pullback in consumer spending. General Growth Properties, Inc.–the country’s second-largest mall operator–filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year, while other owners have been stung by the rising number of retailers declaring bankruptcy.

But malls are still pitching sponsorship, with some seeing success.

Case in point: Simon–the country’s largest mall owner with 160 regional centers in the U.S.–surpassed its sponsorship goal for the first eight months of the year and is on track for an increase in its year-over-year sponsorship revenue.

“In this economic environment, companies are looking for ways to get the most out of their marketing dollars, and many find that participating in our events is more cost-effective than creating their own,” Thygesen said.

All told, sponsorship spending on malls is expected to decline slightly this year. IEG expects sponsorship spending on malls to total $161 million in ’09, down three percent from last year.

Several mall owners contacted by IEG SR have signed new deals over the past year. They include Simon, which brought on The Procter & Gamble Co.’s Duracell battery line as the presenting sponsor of Simon GamePlay, an interactive video game tour.

Minnesota’s Mall of America this year signed Eastman Kodak Co. and Farmers Group, Inc. as sponsors of its Nickelodeon Universe amusement park, while Best Buy Co. came on board last year as title of the Best Buy Rotunda, an interactive gaming and entertainment area.

Hospitals, soft drinks and auto dealerships are the most active categories sponsoring malls (see chart).

Experiential Platforms Take Center Stage
Although malls have long sold signage and other types of exposure, those assets are increasingly being replaced by experiential marketing programs that offer one-on-one consumer touchpoints.

“Posters and banners are going by the wayside; sponsors are looking for more creative ways to stand out and touch consumers,” said Michael Tvrdik, Mall of America’s vice president of corporate partnerships, who is exploring mobile communications platforms and interactive kiosks.

Like other malls, Taubman Centers, Inc. sells sponsorship to proprietary programs, among other assets. For example, the company, which operates 24 high-end shopping centers across the country, has had success marketing its national holiday platform, which includes a 20-foot-tall walk-through snow globe.

The company has used the five-year-old program to secure partnerships with movie studios: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. has sponsored the program the past three years on behalf of Polar Express.

Taubman also hosts sponsor-driven programs. For example, its Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey hosted The Condé Nast Publications’ Teen Vogue Haute Spot pop-up store. The program offered complimentary makeovers, free gift wrapping and other activities.

“It provided a place for girls to relax, try on clothes, drink smoothies, and marketers had an out-of-the-box way to talk to consumers,” said Lisa Herzlich, Taubman’s director of partnership marketing.

The developer also works with sponsors on programs that span multiple properties, including a partnership with Sharp Electronics Corp. that provides for Aquos Entertainment Lounges at 11 malls. Each lounge features flat-screen high definition TVs showing sports events, entertainment and news programming.

Taking a slightly different tack, Simon focuses its sponsorship sales activity on music, fashion and other free events, both local and national. The company’s proprietary events and tours include Simon GamePlay, Simon Fashion Now, Simon dTour Live, Kidgits Eco-community and Kidgits Super Duper Mini Chefs.

Many of those platforms have multiple sponsors. For example, ABC Family presents dTour Live, a 12-stop teen-centric concert series that includes BMX bike demonstrations and interactive games and contests. Cosponsors include Samsung Telecommunications America, LLP; American Legacy Foundation’s Truth anti-smoking campaign; and Universal Studios Home Entertainment, which most recently used the partnership to promote the DVD and Blu-Ray release of Bring it On: Fight to the Finish.

While Simon expects to meet its ’09 sponsorship goal, the sponsorship sales environment still has been challenging.

“We’re getting to our numbers with singles and doubles and the occasional home run,” Thygesen said. “Last year we might have achieved our goal with five sponsors, and this year we might need seven, eight or nine sponsors to get to the same number.”

Assets Malls Bring To The Table
Below, some of the key sponsorship selling points for malls.

Reach and frequency. Malls’ main sponsorship asset: thousands of consumers in a shopping and purchasing mindset.

“I tell people the 63,000-seat Metrodome would have to be filled twice a day every day of the year to match our traffic,” said Mall of America’s Tvrdik, noting that the mall draws 40 million guests annually.

Additionally, consumers coming through malls’ doors are a captive audience predisposed to marketing messages in a non-distractive environment, Thygesen added.

“Consumers spend an average of more than 80 minutes per visit. They’re relaxing, taking in things that are new and different, and not distracted by a sports game.”

Physical locations as proprietary areas. Malls frequently sell sponsorship to food courts, children’s play areas, soft seating areas and other assets.

As the industry’s most active category, hospitals frequently sponsor children’s play areas to tout their community positioning and promote health messaging to mothers.

For example, Lowell General Hospital and the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts New England Medical Center last year came on board as a sponsor of the children’s indoor play area at Nashau, N.H.’s Pheasant Lane Mall, a Simon property. In addition, Alexian Brothers Health System sponsors the play area at Chicago’s Woodfield Mall, a Taubman center.

Alexian Brothers also sponsors the Woodfield Walkers mall-walking program, a breast cancer awareness program and other initiatives.

National and local platforms. Corporate offices typically sell national packages offering a presence across their properties, while regional offices or individual centers look for deals from local-level sponsors.

For example, Simon’s national programs include more than 16,000 individual events at local malls each year. Marketers at each mall are charged with selling local sponsorship to the events.

On-site sales rights. Most malls bundle vending and pouring rights into sponsorship deals with beverage companies.

Mall of America gave Pepsi-Cola North America Beverages; Kemps, LLC dairy products; and Old Dutch Foods, Inc. snacks on-site sales rights in The Theatres at Mall of America after mall owner Triple Five Group Ltd. took control of the theaters.

Experiential assets. Sponsors have the opportunity to enhance the shopper experience by aligning with concierge-like services provided by malls. For example, auto makers frequently sponsor valet parking services to tout their high-end positioning and reward owners with additional perks.

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.’s Lexus division sponsors the valet service at Jacksonville, Fla.’s St. Johns Town Center, a Simon property. The automaker, which is in the final months of a three-year contract, gains on-site vehicle display.

Green marketing platforms. As with other venues, malls can offer sponsors the ability to tie into their efforts to become more energy efficient and sustainable.

Mall of America is offering companies the right to install wind mills, gardens and other green-energy-producing platforms on its roof.

Role as local event sponsors. Mall partners may be able to piggyback on sponsorships undertaken by the mall to drive traffic, providing there are no conflicts with the sponsored property.

Bridgewater Commons mall this year signed a sponsorship of the Quick Chek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in association with PNC Bank.

The GGP property used the July event to distribute coupons ahead of the back-to-school shopping season, said Howard Freeman, president and CEO of Promo 1, which produces the event.