Shoppers make about 2 billion trips a year to Simon Property Group's malls. That's an extraordinary number if you are a retailer. It's extraordinary, too, if you're an advertiser. Looking to tap into that market as a new source of revenue and customer draw, mall owners aggressively are partnering with corporate sponsors.

“We are trying to become more of a traditional medium in the advertiser's mind,” says Kelly Norris, vice president of strategic partnerships at General Growth Properties Inc.

While advertising at malls isn't new, mall owners and companies are increasingly collaborating to target shoppers with so-called “experiential” advertising. They try to forge an emotional bond with the consumer by engaging their senses.

The results are apparent. Simon is teaming up with corporate brands Coca-Cola, Nintendo and L'Oreal Paris, among others, to create a concert known as Simon Dtour Live, which brings in pop bands and TV personalities that appeal to teenagers. Recently, Taubman Centers announced a partnership with Warner Bros. Consumer Products to create Looney Tunes-themed play areas in its malls.

“For us, it's great brand exposure for Looney Tunes,” says Dave Hedrick, senior vice president of worldwide promotional marketing for Warner Bros. Consumer Products. “They are good malls to position our characters in a new and inventive way.”

Mall advertising extends beyond popular brands to include movie studios and magazines. For The Mills Corp.'s Xanadu Meadowlands in New Jersey, Elle magazine will be sponsoring the project's fashion wing with events like runway shows and fashion shoots and Entertainment Week will sponsor the entertainment wing.

This is a growing source of revenue for mall REITs, who usually collect fees by leasing common area space to advertisers. While Simon Brand Ventures, the company's business-to-consumer division, represents less than 2.2 percent of the company's net operating income, revenue was up nearly $4.5 million from last year, according to analysts at Friedman Billings Ramsey. All major mall owners now have divisions that seek to leverage their mall space as an advertising platform.

“Often the best ways for malls to differentiate themselves is to say ‘look who I partner with,’” says Wendy Liebmann, president of WSL Strategic Retail. “Sometimes it's easier for malls not noted for their brands to define themselves through the company they keep.”

“A car just sitting in a mall is really old and boring in my opinion,” says Todd Putman, executive vice president of marketing and customer service for Westfield America. “So you need to provide something around it to make it more interesting.” For example, Westfield is allowing customers to test drive a new Hyundai on a racetrack built in the parking lots at eight of its California malls.

For advertisers, malls provide an interactive forum to directly reach consumers becoming increasingly desensitized to normal media advertising. “When people are in the mall, they are already in the mindset to shop and advertisers want to catch them when they are in that mood,” says Brad Howard, president of Dynamic Media Group of Columbus, Ohio. “When we advertise to people at home watching their TV, we have no idea what kind of mood they are in.”

The trend should increase as traditional mall anchors are unable to attract the numbers they have in the past. “I think it's going to become more and more of an active approach towards advertising because there are so many places you can go shopping now,” says Liebmann. “This has made smart developers recognize that they need to actively promote their spaces and not just manage their malls.”