Turning Bad into Good: Why Customer Complaints Aren’t Always a Bad Thing

How do you turn a bad situation into a good one? Just do what the owner of the Alamo Drafthouse did with a recent customer complaint: use it as the basis for a clever promotional campaign!

Here’s the situation:


The Alamo Drafthouse is a movie theater chain in Austin, Texas. Like a number of luxury movie chains popping up around the country, the Alamo offers a restaurant experience inside its theaters, where patrons can order food and drink items—including alcoholic beverages—from a menu. It’s normally a sweet deal; that is, until a customer takes advantage of the casual atmosphere by using a cell phone in the theater, which is exactly what happened during a recent screening at an Alamo venue.

According to the Alamo’s official blog page, a patron “persisted in texting in the theater despite two warnings to stop.” The guest was escorted from the premises without a refund, as is the theater’s policy. The guest, presumably intoxicated, called the theater’s management office right after the incident to leave a strongly worded voice message.

What did management do about the message? See for yourself:


That’s right—they used the customer’s complaint as the basis for their new PSA, but not before posting it on YouTube first.

Any moviegoer who’s ever had to tolerate the extreme discomfort of sitting behind, in front of, or in the general vicinity of Chatty Cathy dipshit teenagers in a theater knows how difficult it can be to suppress one’s homicidal urges. Well, the Alamo is apparently one of the few chains out there that (bless them) takes the matter seriously, and they’ve demonstrated here that unruly patrons are certainly NOT welcome at any of their establishments.

Cell phones don't belong in the CINEMA!It’s both a gutsy and advantageous move by the theater’s management, but more than anything else, this PSA makes for some truly fantastic PR. With an ad like this, you just know that the Alamo takes its “No talking or texting” policy pretty seriously, and they deserve to be commended for it. In turning a negative situation into a promotional opportunity, the Alamo demonstrates the kind of brand marketing that similar establishments can only hope to emulate. Prospective customers in the Austin area looking to enjoy a pleasant, uninterrupted evening of dinner, drinks, and cinema will know from now on that the Alamo is second to none when it comes to luxury theaters (in the Magnited States of America, that is).

What do you think of the Alamo’s latest PSA? Is it successful in repurposing the context of the caller’s message? Does this prove that businesses can effectively use customer complaints as the basis for promotional material, or is this simply a unique situation?

Image by: Ambro

Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.


  1. Tony Promo

    I think it’s a great idea! Now if we could only do some sort of PSA to get Bret to stop throwing Goobers and Gobstoppers at people during movies, we’d all be happy.

  2. Jana Quinn

    I think the Alamo was spot on here. Part of supporting brand loyalty in the right customers means alienating the wrong customers.

    Uncomfortable truths: The customer is not always right. Not every person is a potential client.

    Not only is this a great PR move in that the video has gone viral, but it is also a walk-the-walk display of enforcing the no-talking-no-texting rule. The prevalence of talking and texting in theaters (plus ridiculous ticket/concession prices) has reduced my attendance. A theater chain that enforces its policies in this regard would more consistently get my business than one that didn’t.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      There are few things in life that I hate more than when my movie is interrupted by unruly members of the audience. The cinema is a sacred place of reverence and worship, and those who come only to desecrate the atmosphere with their cell phone usage and incessant chit-chat deserve no less than to be banned for life. That’s just one guy’s opinion though. Had to vent. 😉

  3. Peemo

    That ad was awesome!

    Thanks, Joe.

  4. Wim @ Sales Sells

    Hi Joseph, I think it’s an awesome policy. What a shame we don’t have it over here! I do, however, have my doubts about the promotional aspects of this movie. Guess it depends if you get the context or not. The way you introduced it, saying she was warned twice etc., it may sound fair to throw her out, but judging from the video alone the people at Alamo Drafthouse come across as a bit rude and revengeful to me. I wonder if I’m the only person feeling this way…


    • Joseph Giorgi

      Hey Wim,

      Thanks for the response. That’s an interesting way to look at it. The Alamo owners do come across as somewhat vengeful in their PSA, but it seems like they’re willing to lose a few potential patrons (the ones who are more likely to talk during showings) in order to reaffirm to the local moviegoing public that such behavior won’t be tolerated. They probably don’t see the loss of a few patrons as anything to worry about.

  5. Jill Tooley

    This is such an interesting concept for a promotional preview! PSAs get preachy about cell phone use and talking sometimes, but Alamo Drafthouse took it to a new level. Not that they’re outwardly preachy, per se, but they’re using a former customer’s words to make themselves seem like the most badass theater employees on the face of the Earth. I know I wouldn’t text or talk during a movie if I saw a preview like this…I’d be too scared to! They’re almost saying: “Hey, go ahead and distract patrons during the movie. We DARE you! Just see what happens.”

    This may not be the most conventional strategy, but it’s damn effective. And for all of the non-talkers and non-texters in the audience, this PSA probably reinforces their loyalty to the Drafthouse. Wouldn’t you make a point to visit a theater where you know you’ll get a quiet, undisturbed moviegoing experience? I know I would!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      You’re right, their PSA does seem a little bit like an indirect threat, which is an effective way to go about it. And yes, any theater that makes good on its word to provide a quiet atmosphere during showtimes will always have my loyalty as a customer. I enjoy being distracted by audience members about as much as I enjoy water in my lungs. 😉

  6. Scooby DOO!

    Customer complaints are never a bad thing and actually it’s a great way to sharpen your customer service skills. In this case, the complaint lead to great marketing; most times, however, complaints are routed back to an error on your part, not the customers. Unfortunately and too often, does one’s sense of pride get in the way from seeing the underlying cause of the situation… Try to look past your pride, take the complaints in stride, and improve by not making that same error twice. Oh, and if you f’ed up, man-up people!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Solid advice, Scooby Doo. Customer complaints should obviously be infrequent, but when they occur, the best plan of action is to learn what you can from the experience (i.e., what went wrong and how it could’ve been avoided) so that you’re better able to handle similar situations down the line.

  7. Juliette

    Wow. Kudos to the Alamo Drafthouse for putting together a PSA with some serious stones. I don’t go to the movies often thanks to prices and the few times I’ve gone lately it seems like I’m always sitting next to someone who thinks that the theater is their own personal MST3K set. (Now once during a broadway theatre show I confronted some folks during intermission and gave them a piece of my mind. When the second act started they had disappeared.)

    After seeing that PSA I’d totally check out the Alamo Drafthouse if I was in the area!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      That is the absolute worst—when people think that their obnoxious commentary is the most hilarious thing in the world. Of course, few things in life are funnier than the actual MST3K commentary on bad movies. Coincidentally, I read on the Alamo site that they run their own version of MST commentary on select showings, which I’m sure would be fun to check out.

      It would be great to have an Alamo Drafthouse in my area (or in any area, really). I’m sure that they’d instantly become number one on my list of favorite theaters.

  8. Amanda

    Great post Joe! I think their PSA was pretty genius! That would really make me want to visit that theatre again and again. I hate it when someone talks during the movie, and you ask them to be quiet, and they give you that dirty look and talk more. I always wish the workers would warn them, but it seems they never do at our local theatre. It gets annoying! We also don’t have a theatre that serves food and drinks like this place, it sounds like a great place, and if we had one closer to us, we’d probably visit it often. I checked out their website, and it looks like they show movies that are sing alongs and quotes alongs too. What a sweet concept! Do we have any theatres like this around Aurora?

    • Jill Tooley

      There are a couple of good dinner/movie theaters around here, actually! Hollywood Palms is in Aurora kind of by the Fox Valley Mall and Hollywood Boulevard is in Woodridge – I think they’re both owned by the same person/people. Here’s their site if you want to check it out:

      • Amanda

        This place looks awesome too! Thanks Jill. =)

        • Jana Quinn

          I’ve been to both, and they’re wonderful. The office-style chairs are a little enormous for someone like me (meaning my feet dangle), but they’re super comfortable. The food is always yummy, and the waiters/waitresses are discreet.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Looks like Jill’s got the low-down on the “happening” theaters in the area. 😉 I’ve been to Hollywood Boulevard once, and I recommend it—it’s a really nice place, and the menu is pretty fantastic. Unfortunately, the movie I saw there at the time (Yogi Bear in 3D) was the most godawful piece of generic filmmaking that I’ve ever had the extreme displeasure of laying my eyes on.

      My advice: check the theater out whenever you get the chance, but make sure that the movie you’re seeing is worth your while. 🙂

  9. JPorretto

    I love this ad! Many (not all!) customer complaints are from people who just don’t understand how the company/ business in general/ the world works.

    For instance, when I had my eBay thing going, one lady complained and left negative feedback because the mail took too long. I sent it priority, so it should have taken 2-3 days. But for some reason it ended up being 7. Of course, I got the blame. Among other things, she said I “should find a better way.” A better way to do what exactly? Make sure USPS doesn’t EVER mess up? Dream on….

    I’m seriously considering taking a page out of the Alamo Drafthouse’s playbook and putting a screen shot of this exchange on my future listings…

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “Find a better way” is pretty ambiguous. Well, I guess you can’t please everyone. That’s probably not a bad idea though — to show your potential buyers exactly how you went about handling that customer’s complaint. Shows initiative and reliability on your part. Good call.

  10. Kyle

    That was hilarious. I wonder if the “star” of this advertisement is aware of her big debut. Angry voicemails are too funny to pass up, regardless of topic, but I never thought to integrate one into an advertisement.

    It’s a gutsy move for sure, but if moviegoers take it the right way I can see this ad attracting new customers. I can also see it going the other way too though, but in my opinion I thought it was refreshingly original and entertaining. Great post, Joe.

    • Amanda

      I see what you’re saying Kyle. Her voicemail was really hateful, and if movie goers are like her and want to use their cell phones in the theatre, they might not return, and also see the place as a bunch of jerks…but I doubt this is too many people, this lady sounded either drunk or kinda slow, lol. But for most people who understand that you’re supposed to be quiet in a theatre, it’s awesome, makes their point, and shows the customers that this was just one person who is just rude and inconsiderate!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I’m sure they’ve gained a few new patrons as a result of the ad’s popularity. To be honest, if I were near the Austin area, I’d make it a point to stop by the Alamo. And I’m sure that I’d be a loyal customer if I lived near one.

  11. cyberneticSAM

    Wow! That was pretty darn clever! I have to say I have no sympathy for that customer. It is ignorant people like that, that keep ME from going to the movie theatres, because of inconsiderate people. I could go on about this all day. But I like that they took this complaint and did what they did. It lets the considerate customers know that they can be assured that Alamo doesn’t take this stuff lightly and can rest assure they will not be disturbed by the jerks in the audience, and it lets the inconsiderate crowd know the same thing and not try and do stupid things like text or talk in a theatre! GOOD FOR THEM!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Absolutely. If there were an Alamo Drafthouse in our area, we’d be loyal customers—that’s for sure.

  12. amy

    “Any moviegoer who’s ever had to tolerate the extreme discomfort of sitting behind, in front of, or in the general vicinity of Chatty Cathy dipshit teenagers in a theater knows how difficult it can be to suppress one’s homicidal urges”. This was my favorite quote! I cannot stand sitting near them and have tried several different tactics to avoid them; going on opening night, waiting 2-3 weeks to see it, going on a weeknight, etc. I applaud the Alamo Drafthouse! I sincerely hope this works for them with increasing their customer following!!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I’m glad you share the antipathy toward those vile and disruptive movie theater patrons. They’re an epidemic, and I agree—it’s getting to point where it’s impossible to avoid them! 🙁

      But yeah, I’m sure that the Alamo is gaining quite a following in their area as a result of the PSA! Rightfully so, I might add. Any theater chain that actually enforces their “no talking or texting” policy deserves to be commended. 🙂

  13. Lauren G.

    First off, great post Joe! I agree with Sam, I don’t like going to the movies a lot anymore because of annoying people (mostly teens) on their phones doing whatever. An example, when the “Dark Knight” came out I was stoked, being a pretty big Batman fan!! I waited all week to go see it and went on an off day hoping to get some silence during the movie. No, the theatre was pretty packed. Kitty corner in front of me was a family with some teenagers. They decided to talk the whole movie and have their phones go off. The parents were of course allowing this behavior and doing it themselves. I was so bummed because I’d get into the movie and pulled back into reality by inconsiderate people. I know that people have emergencies, but then leave the theatre!

    I think using this PSA is a double-edged sword. I would LOVE to go to a theatre like this that has enough respect to kick bad patrons out, in the name of enjoying some good film in respectable silence. Plain and simple. At the same time though, some patrons might see this as disrespectful and might get turned off by the ad. All and all, they’re getting attention and some attention is better than none….

  14. Bret Bonnet

    How come people in Texas don’t know how to pronounce their words properly?!?!

    I love Alamo movie theaters!

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