Blockbuster ads in a digital age

Cinema advertising is seeing a resurgence a digital media gives brands greater opportunities to target audiences.

A darkened room, a large glowing screen and an attentive audience. It’s clear that cinema advertising can showcase a brand at its biggest and brightest but is the industry experiencing a renaissance because of the move towards digital?

Car manufacturers, food companies and telecoms providers are this year’s biggest spenders on the big screen but with the advent of digital media – where advertising can be supplied and broadcast more quickly than before – other sectors such as retail are getting involved. Tesco, for example, ran a campaign promoting apples in September, taking advantage of faster turnaround times.

River Island advertised on cinema screens for the first time last month alongside the final instalment of the newly released Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn: Part 2.

Retailers can undertake short-term campaigns on the silver screen, says Mary McClenahan, offline and events marketing manager at River Island. “Cinema is a powerful medium that has yet to be exploited fully. The move to digital will make cinema more of a consideration for fast turnaround retail brands that can use it in a tactical way.”

McClenahan adds: “It gives us the opportunity to engage with a captive audience: we like the social aspect of cinema and believe it will deliver impact and ultimately cut through for River Island. We recognise the power of the Twilight Saga and cult following among our target customers so it was the perfect fit for the brand. It’s exciting to be part of the experience.”

Cinema sales house DCM has switched its distribution, campaign delivery and scheduling to digital in most chains in the UK, so the lead time is now one rather than three weeks at Vue, Cineworld and Odeon. Advertising reels can also be produced more than 20 times quicker. Rival Pearl & Dean is also following suit and will be able to offer shorter lead times at its contracted cinema chains Empire, Apollo and AMC.

“The key thing about digital is how we use it to change the perception of what cinema advertising can offer. To do that we need to focus on what it truly means for brands,” says DCM’s commercial director Joe Evea, who was recently hired to develop new revenue streams made possible by the adoption of digital technology throughout the business.

DCM, which is a joint venture between Odeon and Cineworld, wants to change the perception of what advertising at the cinema can offer and is testing a mobile app that encourages second screening. It is also working on using augmented reality, which will provide added content from posters or adverts on digital screens in the foyer as well as audio ‘watermarking’ technology on screens where ads will be able to ‘ping’ messages to the user’s phone. For example, an ad for a DVD release could send a mobile phone user a free music track or exclusive content or even direct users to their nearest store to buy the featured product with a discount.

DCM can also run longer-form copy, so for brands that are already producing this content and using it online and on TV, Evea claims that “the cinema is the ultimate place” to run that content.

American influence

Rather than advertisements and trailers, followed by the film, the sales house is also looking at US-style entertainment, such as a show that looks behind the scenes at movies, introduces trailers and becomes a platform for production companies to talk about their films, with advertising running around the show. It already has a short piece of content under the banner ‘From the Red Carpet’.

The pre-show content could also premiere at the cinema before the film and then be used online, on mobile and could potentially be aired on a broadcast platform. US pre-show formats last 20 minutes before the film and brands advertise within the show. The content can include interviews, showbiz news and star profiles.

Pearl & Dean has installed 50 interactive six-sheets into foyers in a move towards direct interaction with consumers explains Mike Hope-Milne, enterprise director at the company. “Interactivity provides opportunities to connect with visitors before the cinema trip via the website, in the foyer as they arrive, in the auditorium during adverts and after the film as they leave to ideally lead them onto the website again.”

He adds: “When we are looking at integrated campaigns, that is our starting point, focusing on all the touchpoints and how an advertiser can take advantage of that.”

Brands are looking to engage with consumers in real time and digital is enabling this to become a possibility. The first brands to take advantage of the long-awaited switchover in September this year were Sony and Tesco. For the release of Breaking Bad season four on DVD, Sony Home Entertainment used the new system’s ability to rotate copy and created pre-release ‘out Monday’ and post-release ‘out now’ adverts. Tesco ran an ad for apples following a positive response to a campaign for clothing range Florence and Fred (see case study).

The problem with cinema advertising before was the long lead times, which did not allow brands to plan and target effectively. Angela Porter, head of grocery advertising at Tesco, says: “Even with our bigger brand campaigns we are often working to the last minute to refine [the campaign], which rules cinema out of the mix because you could never have cinema and TV running at the same time.

“From our point of view we have to be reactionary in the marketplace and it would result in TV being out considerably earlier than cinema. The best way to get them to work together would be to have them running together, so when cinema entered into digital and cut the lead times significantly, it helped.”

Both Pearl & Dean and DCM hope the move to digital will make a difference to the share of advertising spend on cinema in the UK. According to an Advertising Association and WARC expenditure report, cinema spend fell by 6.6 per cent to £172m in 2011 and held a 1.1 per cent share of total spend, although the ad spend forecast for 2012 is a 3.3 per cent rise on this share.

river island
River Island produced its first cinema ad to coincide with the latest Twilight movie

When the lead times for cinema advertising were longer and ad reels were created by hand, last-minute opportunities to tie in with films were often missed. John Ridley, business development director at cinema promotions club Filmology, recalls an opportunity for shampoo brand Head & Shoulders.

In the 2001 sci-fi film Evolution, aliens were killed by a Head & Shoulders shampoo bottle. Ridley says: “The placement was often done in the US so the UK marketing team were not informed of the great tie-in. We only found out that the brand was in the film two weeks before its release and it was too late to advertise around the film. Now we have digital, it’s great for those last-minute opportunities.”

The brand did manage to tie in with the film and ran a campaign offering a sample of Head & Shoulders to audiences with a leaflet saying ‘Use this sample to save the world’.

Targeting is another aspect DCM is focusing on to create new revenue streams. Digital has enabled local variations of national ads to be run and Evea says it has four briefs for the start of next year as businesses realise the opportunity to use cinema advertising in a localised way.

Shireen Alvis of Lee, senior sales manager at Odeon and UCI Cinemas, agrees: “If interactivity was instant, and there is an element of control, there is scope for the advertising to work well in tandem with promotions. For instance, an ad could feature an offer where those who respond immediately receive an e-voucher for money off the product.”

Yet the biggest challenge at the moment is about “changing the perception of cinema and its value,” says Evea at DCM.

“We haven’t seen a huge amount of change for a long time and the developments that digital has facilitated means we can offer more dynamic advertising opportunities and we are now a relevant part of the plans of more brands. But it’s all about how we control and manage this because we still need to keep the premium element of the screen.”

Pearl & Dean’s Hope-Milne also offers advice on how cinema can be planned and bought and trying to offer advertisers too much. “It’s a case of taking advantage of the digital future to best serve advertisers without overcomplicating it so that it becomes a deterrent.”

Case Study: Florence and Fred

Tesco became one of the first brands to use the faster digital service, which sees lead times for advertising cut from three weeks to one.
However, the retailer previously used cinema to launch a Florence and Fred clothing range in April this year, finding that cinema-goers had greater affinity for the brand than non-cinema goers.

Using an online survey and brand tracker, Tesco compared a sample of 300 cinema goers to 561 non-cinema goers. Of those exposed to the brand via cinema, 43 per cent recalled the adverts compared to 36 per cent of non-cinema goers.

Unbranded ads were also tested and 42 per cent of the cinema audience recognised them, versus 29 per cent of those who did not go to the movies. Recall for those who go to the cinema is also higher, with 65 per cent compared to 48 per cent.

The cinema audience also reported higher levels of sentiment, likelihood to visit the store and to choose the brand over competitors compared to the non-cinema audience.

Angela Porter, head of grocery advertising at Tesco, says: “The TV market is cluttered, especially with retailers, so cinema gives us a more captive audience and a chance to showcase the quality of the brand messages. By its very nature cinema is a quality medium where you can showcase nice films and beautiful music and it acts as a reinforcement for the messages people may have picked up on TV.”

Films to look out for in 2013

The latest Bond movie Skyfall may be storming the box office but there are more high-profile releases to tempt people to the big screen. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is expected to draw 8 million admissions this month and next and Ang Lee’s adaptation of Booker prize winning novel Life of Pi is also hotly anticipated.

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained could see a male-dominated audience of over 1.5 million. His eighth film promises a brutal tale of revenge and stars Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and a cast of familiar Tarantino faces.

On a smaller scale is 2012 Sundance hit The Sessions. Telling the true story of a 38-year-old man with polio and his quest to lose his virginity to a ‘sex surrogate’, it features character actor John Hawkes taking centre stage with support from Helen Hunt and William H Macy. It is expected to appeal to a female audience over 25 years old.

Source: DCM