A century ago, AMI Entertainment unveiled the ultimate in cutting-edge technology for barroom amusement. It was—get this—a coin-operated player piano! You could choose your song for a penny a play.
Today, the on-premise entertainment company is still a fixture in bars and restaurants, thanks to its digital touch-screen jukeboxes 3.2 and video games, and streaming news, sports, and videos on its HDTV monitors. And unlike in the old player piano days, AMI uses its ability to grab people’s attention between beers or hot wings as an opportunity to display on-screen ads, in an unassuming way that would make proud the forces behind Google and Facebook.
The Nielsen Company recently measured the volume of place-based video ads shown across America during a three-month span, along with where they were displayed—such as elevators, movie theaters, cabs, bars, etc.—and who saw them. According to the results, AMI’s network generated 22.6 million exposures, more than half of which reached the golden demographic, men and women 18 to 34 years old. To compare, a primetime network TV ad averages roughly 3 million viewers, according to Nielsen—meaning you’d have to run seven primetime national ads to reach the same number of viewers as a quarter-long advertising run with AMI.
“We’re trying to appeal to brands who want to capture people’s attention when they’re not necessarily consuming traditional media,” says Mike Nickerson, AMI’s vice president of advertising. “To patrons in bars and restaurants, we’re like a drop of red dye in a bucket of water. We really stand out. And in that setting, they’re open to messages.”
Just how open? Last year, AMI partnered with internet startup Plastic Jungle, which buys and sells gift cards, to be the new company’s first and exclusive advertising outlet for a two-month stint, running 15-second spots on TVs, jukeboxes, and video game consoles in bars and restaurants. During that time, Plastic Jungle’s brand awareness (among random samplings of 10,000 people nationwide) grew from 7.1 percent to 24.9 percent—past all competitors, according to Plastic Jungle. “We were pleased to see the increase in brand awareness for Plasticjungle.com that was generated through ads and interactions on AMI’s network," says Kristin Donelson, Plastic Jungle’s vice president of marketing.
AMI regards its advertising as an extension of its services, but hasn’t forgotten its roots. “We’re an entertainment company first,” says Nickerson. “We work hard on the quality of our content and the selection. It’s really gratifying to see people waiting for their turn on one of our video games.”
AMI has more than 20,000 internet connected screens for its game consoles, jukeboxes, and TVs installed at locations around the country. It boasts 700,000 songs available for download for its touch-screen jukeboxes, offering promotions and contests to consumers as they browse the music selections. Its bar-top video games, like “Final Table Hold ’Em,” “Flick & Kick Football,” and “Mystery Phraze,” have built such cult followings that AMI now sells consoles for home use. And the company’s HDTV connections offer four custom channels that provide hundreds of hours of sports, news, and entertainment.
AMI sees its role in the advertising landscape for big-name corporations—and the role of place-based electronic video, in general—as a complement to the traditional avenues of print and television, and not necessarily a replacement. “Brands are searching for new, creative ways to capture people’s attention. Digital place-based media is a powerful way to push consumers through the purchase funnel, whether they’re in elevators at work, or in a taxi, or in a bar during happy hour,” says Nickerson.
And bar-going consumers are exactly the crowd most advertisers are trying to reach: More than half have an income above $50,000 annually and more than 90 percent are aged 21 to 49 and hang around for more than 90 minutes while having drinks, in a setting that’s relatively uncluttered from other advertising messages.
AMI’s digital network allows for customized local content with national companies, and its list of clients is a who’s who of brands, including companies such as Microsoft, Google, Jim Beam, and VH1.
“Working with AMI gives us a targeted way to reach music fans when they’re out and about,” says Stephanie Werner, vice president of VH1 promotions and partnerships. When the network recently re-launched Behind the Music, it enlisted AMI Entertainment for integrated promotion.
AMI ran VH1 ads throughout its digital networks, generated VH1 playlists on its jukeboxes, and created the “Behind the Music Trivia Whiz” video game. Consumers were allowed to play a free sample on bar-top touch-screen consoles, and were then provided a link showing them how to download the full version on their iPhone. More than 50,000 copies were downloaded from the iTunes Store, briefly making it a top-seller.
“We try to offer the content that people really want to use in a bar. And going to a bar is becoming more of an interactive experience,” says Nickerson. Though some aspects of stopping at the local watering hole still haven’t changed from the days of player pianos. “If you’re going there to look for a date, we’re not going to be of any assistance.”