Cinema has always billed itself as an engaging medium with a captive, attentive and appreciative audience that has made an appointment to view a film. What's more, industry statistics show that this apparently advertising-receptive audience has grown steadily over the past 20 years and now 3.5 million people in Britain go to the cinema every week. Figures released by the Advertising Association in May put cinema ad spend at £188m. But can cinema still cut it as a prime media channel in the digital age, when consumers can increasingly download good-quality movies to their mobiles, PCs or PSPs?
Naturally Kathryn Jacob, managing director of Pearl & Dean, and Adam Mills, sales director at Carlton Screen Advertising, believe it can and explain why over the page. First, a quick look at what highlights are now showing or coming soon to a cinema near you.
- The latest Film Audience Measurement and Evaluation (FAME) report of audience behaviour shows that 92% of people enjoy going to the cinema, making it the nation's favourite pastime. More than one in three (34%) say cinema would be worse without the ads compared to only one in five TV viewers, meaning cinema-goers are an extremely receptive audience for advertising. They also purport to be more relaxed, engaged and attentive than TV watchers. FAME, which replaced CAVIAR in January, is also segmenting audiences and tracking response to foyer advertising for the first time. It has found that eight out of 10 cinema-goers tend to notice posters, while two out of three notice standees (display units).
- With the average film-goer spending 21 minutes in the foyer before entering the auditorium, advertisers are cottoning on to the effectiveness of experiential marketing in foyers.
Mobile phone brand 3 ran a campaign around its Dirty Music ad campaign last autumn. Characters from the ad - "music policemen" and Japanese housewives - gave out earplugs and leaflets about the handsets. Then, in the corridor leading to the auditorium, floor stickers played a snippet of Dirty Music from the ad when stepped on.
- Taking experiential one step further, some advertisers have created "seasons". Skincare brand Sanex did this for a month at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square in central London in March. During the month, promotions and sampling took place in the foyer, while the brand hosted exclusive, pre-release screenings of documentaries such as Fast Food Nation with post-film Q&A sessions.
Beer brand Peroni conducted a similar campaign at Picturehouse sites, parking Peroni VW Campervans outside, with a red carpet leading into the cinema. Inside the foyer, the brand projected a 60-second ad onto the wall, while Peroni usherettes dished out free popcorn.
- Branded content, where advertisers create their own entertainment for audiences, is becoming more popular. Shell created a nine-minute film that ran before the main advertising reel - called "out of reel" in the trade - to increase its standout. This short film told the story of Shell's chief engineer Jaap Van Ballegooijen grappling with the problem of how to extract more oil, while minimising environmental and economic impact. He comes up with a solution, inspired by his "green" son, Max.
Other brands that have experimented with out-of-reel advertising include Orange, Pizza Hut Gold Spots and The Mail on Sunday. Carlton Screen Advertising believes that by borrowing key components of film, advertisers can create engaging and powerful content to connect with their audience when they are in a receptive mood. Pearl & Dean has also worked with advertisers who have created their own version of the cinema institution's catchy and iconic credits (think "pad-pad-pah"), which is another example of innovative and memorable ad-funded content.
- Another way advertisers are grabbing audiences' attention is through live in-cinema ads, where actors perform ads in the cinema auditorium. Volvo did this to promote its XC90 during the screening of Pirates of the Caribbean. "Captain Blacktooth" came storming into the auditorium telling the audience, in true pirate lingo, about a treasure hunt for a Volvo XC90, advising them to go online to find out more information.
By taking this humorous, novel approach, Volvo was able to tell viewers about the car's unique selling points through the mouthpiece of Captain Blacktooth, getting laughs along the way. In one day, 87 live ads were performed in 15 cinemas. Other brands to have added to the film-going experience in the auditorium include Red Bull, which ran an advert in 3D and gave viewers special glasses to view the effects.
- Advertising deals where cinema ads are integrated with other platforms look set to be a key feature. Pearl & Dean has already struck a deal with Group M to provide streaming video ads via its homepage www.pearlanddean.com. This involves the site exclusively showing the media agency's client ads on the website for a year. The first reel, which launched in April, boasts current ads from the likes of Land Rover, Sony, EDF Films and Muller. Group M believes this advertising opportunity adds value to and extends the reach of cinema campaigns.
- The use of Bluetooth technology in-cinema is another emerging trend. Pearl & Dean started trialling the technology with Toyota Aygo in early June in 25 of its Vue sites. As consumers enter the cinema, those with Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones will get a message asking them if they want to download free content. If they do, a menu pops up on screen giving them the opportunity to download various tracks from Toyota's ads. As a free music download, the cost is covered by the advertiser. One of the benefits of this type of advertising is that it is charged on a pay-per-click basis and is fully accountable, with advertisers able to track how many people downloaded content and from which cinemas.
While Toyota is only experimenting with audio downloads, Bluetooth technology also has the capacity to offer video downloads too, such as film trailers, ads and movie clips. This is thought to increase the viral nature of advertising, with cinema viewers forwarding content to friends.
- The digital revolution is coming, albeit slowly, to cinema. No one can give an exact date as to when all cinemas will become fully digitised, but experts predict this will happen over the next 10 years.
Currently there are 260 digital screens in the UK, with 300 planned by the end of the year - 530 are expected next year. According to Carlton Screen Advertising, the industry anticipates that digital will make up 30% of UK cinema screens by 2010. Digital will make cinema a more flexible medium, which no longer runs off old-fashioned film reels. This means copy can be changed at the flick of a switch and will lead to the release of more films, shorter advertising lead times and cheaper admissions.
- Digital also means new opportunities for advertisers to sponsor new formats. Vue Music launches at the end of June and will broadcast concerts live in high definition to cinema screens, starting with Genesis in Dusseldorf. This means audiences can buy cinema tickets as the next best option to actually attending a concert. Similarly, Odeon has already screened 11 football matches sponsored by Nike during the World Cup. The chain will be doing the same for the 2007 Rugby World Cup in September.
- As well as live concerts, digital screens are now able to display live gaming in action. Odeon Birmingham hosted the final of the Gamestation competition, with finalists battling it out across a range of games live on the cinema screen. Nintendo Wii has also taken live in-cinema ads to the next level.
At cinemas across the country during showings of Pirates of the Caribbean, the ad reel will be interrupted by actors posing as a mother and son. The mum challenges her son to a game of tennis on Nintendo Wii and the audience is then exposed to a theatrical demonstration of the console contained within an entertaining storyline. As well as this, Wii consoles will be set up in foyers for members of the public to play on.
Kathryn Jacob, Chief executive, Pearl & Dean
Attention is the scarcest resource of the 21st century. People text as they watch TV and as they look information up online. But when they go to the cinema, you have their undivided attention. They even turn up 15 minutes early to soak up the experience. It's an experience they are emotionally involved in - they'll laugh, cry or bond with mates over a pack of popcorn.
What's more, they enjoy watching the ads. The fact they applaud some of them, like Peroni's take on La Dolce Vita, speaks for itself. Because of this emotional involvement, advertisers can run longer ads, such as Orange's spoof films of cast auditioning, starring Patrick Swayze and Steven Seagal. Through cinema advertising, Orange has built up a relationship with the audience who welcome their contribution to the film-going experience.
Some say that, with the growth of film online, cinema's popularity will wane. It won't. Watching a film on your PC is not the same experience. It's a tiny screen with a tiny film - nothing compared to the fantastic graphics on a big screen. I'm certain cinema will continue to thrive in the digital age.
Also, the fact that the number of film releases over the past 10 years has soared is testament to cinema's growing popularity. A decade ago, 250 films were released in a year; this year 541 will be released. The capacity for cinema to grow even further is huge, as British people go to the cinema on average three times a year. In Ireland, the average is four and in Germany and France it's between four and five.
Cinemas are getting better. They are hubs for the community. People enjoy going there, meeting friends. Cinemas are also becoming skilled at identifying films that resonate with their unique audiences and offering extra services such as Friday film clubs and preview screenings.
Gone are the days when the choice was only Police Academy 53 or Porkies 4. Today there is vast diversity, from Pirates of the Caribbean to Lives of Others. This makes it more interesting for advertisers, who can now buy tailored packages or decide, for instance, only to advertise in independent cinemas to capture a different audience. There are also opportunities to get involved in experiential marketing in the foyers. That 20 minutes pre-film is an ideal time to target customers. Take a brand like Baileys. How appropriate it would be to hand out samples and vouchers to the waiting gaggles of girls before they see The Devil Wears Prada on a girls' night out.
Or you can do what Estee Lauder did and spray perfume into the foyer. Or be really creative, as Wrigley's was with its "Movieoke", where consumers could reel off their favourite lines from films for broadcast on a large foyer screen. If you do experiential marketing properly in this arena, it really adds to the enjoyment of participants and the expectant cinema audience.
Adam Mills, Sales director, Carlton Screen Advertising
Cinema's main advantage is that it achieves ultimate cut-through in a world cluttered with thousands of commercial messages. People are in an environment where nothing else can distract them.
This means advertising is much more effective. We have just done research that proves cinema-goers have a more profound understanding of ads shown than someone at home. When we asked a group of consumers to illustrate some ads they had seen on TV, they could remember them at a thematic level, but not in detail. When people who had seen the ads in the cinema did the same exercise, their responses were much more detailed.
One of the ads tested was for high-street bank Abbey. TV watchers generally remembered the ad featured a rabbit hopping over a river to denote "switching" banks for a better rate. Cinema-goers had a much deeper understanding. They also picked up on the actual interest rate, telephone number and the fact that the grass was greener on the other side of the river bank, remarking on the play on words.
Psychologists we consulted say that when people are excited about something - such as going out with friends to the cinema - they are more likely to engage and remember the experience in greater detail, which is why the cinema-goers could supply more information about the advertising.
Cinema also offers a more targeted channel for reaching audiences on a bigger scale than other media channels. Although it has in the past been thought of as a niche medium, it now stacks up as a very effective way of targeting distinct audiences in large numbers.
And the audience you can reach is young and upmarket, much more so than the likes of Channel 4. There has been a huge growth in family films in particular. Big blockbuster films like Spiderman pull in the crowds, and we're expecting significant growth in the cinema market this year on the back of a strong film slate. Already this year we've seen a 7% uplift.
As for the impact of digital film downloads online, this is not a threat. People are not going to stop enjoying cinema because they can watch a film on their PC. That's like saying because you have great music on your iPod, you won't want to go to a concert. The advent of digital technology is not a threat either. Quite the reverse. It will simply mean a wider breadth of films, more genres, more people attracted to this greater selection of cinema offerings and, ultimately, a reduction in the cost of going to see a film.
So, in a world of more and more clutter, there will be more consumers choosing to go to the cinema and give the medium their full attention. Cinema in the future will continue to reach more people and stand out better. Digital will certainly not kill the cinema star.