Why cinema’s ‘captive audience’ is winning new advertisers

With ad spend set to rise 12.6% this year, cinema remains a key channel for UK marketers.

DCM collaborated with Airbnb to create a 3D ad experience during certain screenings

Such is the hype of the Disney machine, it feels like there’s just as many people counting down the days until the release of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ as Christmas itself. The second part in the new trilogy, The Last Jedi is expected to break box office records and will no doubt be boosted by an endless number of sponsors and brand partners.

Its release comes amid a healthy period for cinema as an advertising channel. In 2016, ad spend rose 8.4% to £258m in the UK, according to the Advertising Association and Warc, which predicts spend in the channel will rise by 12.6% to around £290.5m in 2017. Growth is expected to slow next year, however.

Over the last 30 years, there has been considerable growth in admissions as the summer blockbuster window solidifies itself on the UK calendar. Admissions totalled £76m in 1986, but this figure stood at £168m in 2016.

In fact, 78% of the UK population are now cinemagoers, according to DCM, which sells cinema ad placements to brands. It says its brand count is up 4% year-on-year, with over 180 advertisers showcasing their stories through 60-second-plus ad placements over the past year. And in new research released this week (27 November), DCM says campaigns employing TV and cinema as the primary audiovisual media channels, contribute an average of 1.58% to total brand KPI. The next best performing combination for brand building is TV, cinema and online video at 1.3%.

Cinema ad firm Pearl & Dean’s sales director Zoe Cadman believes the brand safety issues currently hitting the likes of Google is working in cinema’s favour. “I think this explains the massive growth we’ve seen this year – our own advertising revenues are up 6.6% – as brands are realising there’s a clear element of safety in advertising to cinema audiences,” she says. “It’s also a lot harder to make an emotional or immersive connection through online channels.” But do brands agree?

How TUI, Godiva and Playstation perceive cinema

Sarah Horowitz, head of marketing at premium chocolate brand Godiva, recently launched an extensive collaboration with Everyman Cinemas. Starting in September, the 12-week ‘Midweek Masterpieces’ campaign saw cinema goers at all UK Everyman cinemas receive a complimentary sample of Godiva chocolates alongside their film ticket on a Wednesday night.

The brand’s owner Pladis made £2.2bn in global sales last year, but sees cinema as a crucial part of its plan to grow this to £3.2bn by 2019. “It’s just such a captive audience so people are a lot more likely to buy,” explains Horowitz. “The thing about other media channels is people are juggling multiple things at the same time so advertising really needs to stand out.

“There’s this era of double stacking, where people have the TV on while logging onto Facebook and several other things. In the cinema, they are completely engaged with the content on the screen and we think this is more likely to result in a purchase.”

A sequence from the Playstation VR campaign that is running during showings of Justice League

Playstation’s UK group marketing manager Tom Whitaker is also a big fan of the channel, with gaming ads translating well to the big screen. However, he warns brands that just because an ad is shown on a cinema screen, it doesn’t necessarily mean people will actually sit and watch it.

“We’re dealing with an audience that will happily install ad blockers, so it would be naïve to believe they are sitting through the whole ad reel during a movie,” he adds. “That’s why the ‘gold spot’ – the 60-second ad directly before the main feature – has such a strong appeal for us.”

Over recent months TUI has used cinema to communicate its rebrand away from Thomson. Its UK marketing director Jeremy Ellis says the channel has helped to build “brand stature” and is perfect for “getting a message to stick”. However, he concedes: “If you are looking for reach there are far better ways to go about it.”

Why ‘reach’ is overrated

DCM’s CEO Karen Stacey believes cinema’s lack of advertising reach is in fact its greatest strength. She insists audiences are “very engaged”. “Why is it Facebook is encouraging brands to create three-second ads? It’s because its users are so distracted,” she claims.

“In this world of distraction, cinema is pretty much the only channel where everyone puts their phone away and provides their undivided attention for 120 minutes – it’s a huge differentiator. Reach is overrated, you can get it anywhere nowadays with programmatic. But true impact, making an impression and achieving cut through is the hard part, and that’s what cinema provides.

“It used to cost around £90,000 to convert an advert into 35mm, with digital scheduling it now costs £3,000 – that’s created a huge uplift.”

EDF’s campaign has been cited as an example of injecting originality into cinema advertising

Stacey says even though 95% of DCM’s cinema ads are the same creative as what’s already been shown on TV, 85% of cinemagoers still believe the content is different due to the “epic nature” of watching them on the big screen. But with cinema ad revenue growth set to slow from 12.6% to just 4% in 2018, according to the Advertising Association and Warc, which is a decline in line with other channels as Brexit kicks in, she concedes brands can’t win simply by turning up.

“I’d like to see more long-term planning. Most people go to the cinema five or six times a year so you need cinema campaigns that exist outside the big screen. It’s great there’s so many big blockbusters to advertise against, but we need more originality as well.”

Going beyond the big screen

Pearl & Dean’s Cadman agrees with Stacey, pointing to EDF’s partnership with the movie ‘Hidden Figures’, which documents the lives of three female African American mathematicians who worked for NASA, as a great example of how to do this.

She explains: “We worked with EDF as part of their ‘Pretty Curious’ campaign to get more young girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects at schools. They promoted the Hidden Figures film in their above-the-line campaign and in exchange we were able to offer preview screenings to science students across the country. It left a legacy beyond the screenings.”

According to Cadman, the biggest cinema advertisers are still in the automotive sector, with revenues up 12% for Pearl & Dean, which like DCM also sells cinema advertising space to brands, this year. She says the entertainment vertical, which includes digital brands such as Amazon, Netflix and Google, is also up 43%. “This is telling,” she claims. “Some of them know they are more likely to make a personal connection with cinema than through their own digital platforms.”

The City sees cinema as a medium for the long-term and marketers should too.

Karen Stacey, DCM

In the new year, DCM says it will continue to push the opening of 4DX theatres, which allow brands to use smell, liquids and air to create a deeper level of immersion. For example, Xbox One’s Forza racing game was recently able to create an ad where as a car went around a track on the screen, the audience could smell burning rubber and feel a breeze on their faces.

DCM’s Stacey says the industry is also working harder to track the impact cinema advertising has on people making purchases after a film ends. She confidently concludes: “At the moment people go to the cinema on average six times a year but we want them to go eight times as that will help sustain cinemas – this means there needs to be a big investment in cinema infrastructure to draw people in.

“But the reality is we’re in a great place at the moment. Just go look at the share prices of Cineworld and Everyman, they are up more than 80% since last December. The City obviously sees this is a medium for the long-term and marketers should too.”

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