How innovation and technology are changing the cinema experience for brands

In the next instalment of our series exploring the effectiveness of media channels, we look at cinema advertising and its strength in targeting and ability to bring brands to life with 3D and now 4D experiences.


Increased targeting, investment in technology and a raft of blockbuster hits are giving cinema a boost but the medium still has an awareness issue with advertisers wasting content that could be used on the big screen.

It’s for this reason that Karen Stacey, chief executive officer at Digital Cinema Media (DCM), believes awareness is a “challenge” for cinema, particularly in showing potential advertisers what the medium can do and “engaging the creative industry”.

Harnessing branded content

She says: “There’s some lovely branded content online and that’s the bit I would like to harness.” Cinemas already run TV adverts but Stacey suggests brands could use the additional footage they have from creating their TV spots to produce a longer 90-second version for cinema, rather than simply wasting it.

Despite this challenge Stacey describes the need to turn advertisers on to cinema as “pushing an open door”. This is illustrated by the fact cinema is already experiencing growth, which is predicted to continue, according to the latest Advertising Association and Warc expenditure report.

It shows cinema ad spend grew by 20.8% to reach a record £238m in 2015, driven by two of last year’s highest grossing films, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the latest in the James Bond franchise, Spectre. And it is expected to grow a further 4% in 2016. DCM alone reported a 26% rise year-on-year in cinema ad spend in Q1 of 2016.

READ MORE: Disney admits it has ‘no idea’ who went to see Star Wars as it increases focus on consumer insight

“We don’t have an audience problem,” says Stacey. “Everyone is multitasking so much and that plays into our hands [and] the audiences going to the cinema have been static over the last five years.”

From an advertiser’s perspective Stacey points to a renewed sense of “going back to basics” and building brands. She says: “There’s been a realisation and understanding by marketers that you need to build brands because it’s brand that give companies long-term value and sustainable growth.”

“[Brand] building and storytelling is hard to do in three seconds, with just visual and no audio,” she says, referring to the ongoing issues advertisers are having with the viewability of digital ads.

Cinema has seen a raft of brands capitalising on the storytelling nature of film and understanding that big screen audiences have paid to be entertained and therefore expect it.

Bringing brands to life

Earlier this year Airbnb launched a split-screen experience in the US, UK and Australia, in partnership with DCM, for its ‘Don’t go there. Live there’ campaign. It gave movie-goers the ability to see two alternative travel experiences simultaneously by using specialised bifocal glasses that employ adapted 3D technology.

The system separates 2D images so that the two images can be seen simultaneously depending on the viewer’s chosen perspective.

Smart Energy, meanwhile, created a stunt at London’s Picturehouse Central using 3D technology and pyrotechnics in the theatre where the cinema experienced a ‘power cut’ and viewing was interrupted by the brand’s characters running amuck in the screen. In this instance the brand used the cinema experience to create content that was shared and promoted via social media.

“Experiencing something socially, even commercial elements, make cinema powerful,” according to chief commercial officer at Odeon, Andy Edge. He recalls being in the cinema watching the audience reaction to The Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s ad calling on viewers to breathe in and out to show how long someone can survive under water.

READ MORE: How to create lasting impact from immersive brand experiences

There are also opportunities for early adopters to cinematic innovation, such as 4D screenings that use mechanics in seats to move viewers, pump smells and spray water to reflect the action on the screen.

Xbox is the first brand to release an advert made for the six Cineworld-owned 4DX screens that exist in the UK. The brand promoted a Forza Horizon 3 using the technology to enable audiences to physically and visually experience being in the game.

Edge adds: “It comes back to the power of people; that you are all doing it together.”

Targeting capabilities

The English National Opera focused its cinema activity on one region enabling it to run activity for 11 weeks in all of the premium releases.
The English National Opera focused its cinema activity on one region enabling it to run activity for 11 weeks in premium releases. Photo credit: Tom Bowles.

The targeting capabilities available to cinema advertisers are helping to increase the effectiveness of the medium, meaning brands are able to devote more budget.

The English National Opera (ENO), for example, chose cinema to target specific and non-traditional audiences, working with Total Media to showcase its Madam Butterfly opera, highlighting the visual appeal of the production.

“It’s one of our most iconic productions, alongside that it had one of our highest sales targets so we needed a campaign that would position it as a blockbuster production,” says head of marketing, Lisa Leigh. “It was a fantastic vehicle for showing off all of those visually appealing aspects of the production.”

The ENO had a budget of less than £20,000 but was able to deliver a schedule focused on independent cinemas in London, getting access to boutique sites that appealed to its target audience of experience seekers.

“[Cinema is] a fantastic vehicle for showing off all of those visually appealing aspects of the production.”

Lisa Leigh, head of marketing, English National Opera

By focusing activity in one region and concentrating on a specific cinema chain, ENO was able to run activity for 11 weeks in all of the premium releases, resulting in sales figures for the campaign being 6% above target.

Leigh says: “It’s the sixth run of the production but it was our most successful in attracting new audiences and we had more people come to this run than ever before.”

The ENO would use cinema again if the production was right because it provides a “richer experience”. Leigh adds: “If you can give people a taster and show them what the production looks like it’s a great opportunity for us to connect with newer audiences.”

It’s not all about the visuals; Edge recalls a piece of creative from audio brand Sonos that just used sound. He says: “You can be quite lateral but use the technology well.”

Blockbuster year

It’s easy to see why cinema ad spend is expected to continue its growth streak. Alongside original content, 2017 will be a year of sequels of hugely successful films.

Besides the obvious money-maker that is Star Wars, cinema-goers can expect to see the next instalment in the Fast and the Furious franchise, Fifty Shades Darker, Pitch Perfect 3, Trainspotting 2 and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

Edge says: “There’s a great future plan of films, both original and franchise, audiences are looking healthy and cinema chains are more focused on guest experience, ensuring that while the film makers do their bit, the cinema exhibitors does theirs.”

The effort put into the cinema experience, into using technology to create great content and filmmakers continuing to appeal to films fans means the value of cinema for advertisers should continue to grow.

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