Record audiences still cinema doubts

Media buyers’ calls for accountability and fairer prices from cinemas are unlikely to gain much support since the sector is pulling in customers

Brands increased their advertising spend through cinemas by 28 per cent last year to &£164m, but sales houses Pearl & Dean (P&D) and Carlton Screen Advertising (CSA) continue to come under fire for offering unaccountable ad spots with inflexible prices.

As nominations for the Oscars were unveiled last week, some of the media buyers responsible for purchasing ads shown at the UK’s 3,150 cinemas were re-iterating their concerns about the way the ads are priced, and the absence of research about how many people actually get into the cinema early enough to watch them.

The cinema sales houses say the cost of advertising is driven by demand like any other media, and they claim their own research on advertising recall shows that 87 per cent of people attending films see the ads.

Cinema sales houses also have strong arguments for why certain brands – particularly those aimed at the young – should invest more in advertising on the silver screen. Their research on ad memorability shows cinema ads have between four and six times more recall than television ads. What’s more, cinema admissions are growing gradually each year – last year they rose to their highest level since 1972, up nine per cent on 2000 to 155.9 million.

These arguments have been enough to sway Government information body COI Communications, which last year became the biggest spender on cinema advertising in the UK, with a budget of &£6m. They were also enough to persuade BMW to run its launch campaign for the revamped Mini on the big screen months before putting it on TV, in a bid to attract “early adopters”.

Advertisers can easily see the advantages of the medium – it’s better for showing top creative work and the ads have strong recall. Moreover, market reach through cinemas is increasing and broadening. More films are released than previously, they are more popular and they are appealing to a wider range of audiences. While Oscar nominees such as Amelie and Gosford Park attract older, more upmarket consumers, children’s films such Toy Story regularly make it into the admissions top ten.

But media buyers are irritated by what they see as P&D and CSA’s inflexible attitude to pricing. No matter how the medium performs, the cost per thousand measure increases each year, they say. As Zenith Media head of cinema Andy Smith puts it: “If it is a good year, they put it [the price] up by eight per cent, and if it’s a bad year, they put it up five per cent. It is the most expensive medium on cost per thousand apart from direct marketing.”

And Sarah Moran, head of cinema for COI’s buying shop Universal McCann, says: “Cinema seems to get away with it. The cost per thousand is put up automatically by the two companies. Because it is a small medium, you don’t get the level of cost analysis that you get with other media.”

CSA joint sales director Nicky Homes responds: “For certain brands, you can understand that the cost per thousand is too high. For example one market we have problems reaching is housewives with children. We are trying to address that…when demand is low, we try to offer a discount.” She says packages aimed at packaged goods categories can include substantial discounts, but where there is great demand for particular films, the sales houses just respond to market forces. This year, she says, cost per thousand has risen eight per cent because of the 30 per cent increase in advertising revenue. But three years ago, when there was less demand, she claims the cost went down.

As to how many cinema goers actually arrive in time for the ads, buyers say the sales houses provide no research on this – though CSA claims its recall studies do provide valid information. And sales houses argue that while listening and viewing figures from Rajar and BARB are based on surveys, the admissions data provided by Entertainment Data International give actual numbers of tickets bought.

But Jez Groom, former head of cinema at Starcom Motive, recalls carrying out research for Whitbread and Levi’s which showed that at the beginning of the ad reel only two-thirds of the audience were seated, rising to 85 per cent by the end.

Also, buyers believe cinema advertising reels are getting longer, and as there is no sector exclusivity (you could, for instance, have three car ads in one reel) the whole medium is unaccountable.

CSA and P&D say broader cinema audiences make it an attractive medium for more types of brands, cinema is no longer just for beer and jeans advertisers targeting the hard-to-reach youth. But Zenith’s Smith says: “Cinema is not appealing to broad fast-moving consumer goods advertisers because the cost per thousand for broad audiences is very expensive.”

Cinema works out four times more expensive than television, but while TV audiences are dwindling, cinema visits are growing. No doubt more advertisers will be considering using this medium, no matter how expensive it may be.

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