Just because cinema is selling out doesn't mean you should

Cinema advertising efforts must tread carefully in the pursuit of eyeballs.

Cinema advertising revenues are on the rise, as Hollywood churns out blockbuster after blockbuster, attracting audiences in their droves to watch the likes of Spider-Man: Far from Home, The Lion King, Avengers: Endgame and Toy Story 4 (pictured, above).

Parents everywhere recently steeled themselves for the return of warbling princesses Elsa and Anna as Frozen 2 opened and began its gazillion-dollar ascent at the box office. The upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is also likely to join the $1bn club, contributing to strong forecasts for UK cinema adspend – Group M predicted that it will top £200m for the first time by year end.

Cinema admissions have risen by almost 5% since 2010, according to Comscore, but cinema advertising revenue has seen a massive increase of 55% in that time – the biggest growth in revenue for any medium outside the internet, according to Warc.

But advertisers must tread carefully when cashing in on the medium’s popularity.

Money expert Martin Lewis recently tweeted that he’d been to the cinema for an 8.45pm showing, but the film didn’t start until 9.17pm. It’s clear – 56,000 retweets later – that he touched a nerve.

So, when did cinema ads become such an ordeal? When did we all lose sight of the medium as the pinnacle of its form – a rare opportunity for a brand to engage with a captive audience in glorious technicolour and ear-tingling audio on a gargantuan screen?

Probably when advertisers started lazily rehashing the same old ideas, proliferating versions of the same ad with little consideration of each execution on its own merits or strengths. Johnny Depp prancing around the desert to sell man-scent for 60 seconds longer than the version you skip through on the telly doesn’t make for great entertainment.

Somewhere amid Hollywood’s dizzying eddy of remakes and reboots lies the powerful drift of audiences towards experience and escapism, seeking respite from the onslaught of digital media. Cinema exists as one of the last surviving bastions of interruptive advertising (no skip button here, folks!).

Cinemas are catching on to this and creating new types of partnerships with brands – ones that go beyond the big screen to create real-life experiences for audiences. Max Factor ran tailor-made tutorials to recreate the looks of Hollywood leading ladies and set up premiere-style events, complete with make-up lounges and cinema takeovers.

Everyman Cinema partnered Grey Goose to stage screenings around events such as Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day, with special cocktails for the occasions; and Lidl’s "Movie moments" campaign included bespoke idents for Mary Poppins Returns and Toy Story 4.

Advertisers must be considerate, contextual and contribute something to the viewer’s experience while extending a campaign’s reach with proper thought and design.

While cinema owners themselves are investing in reclining seats and restaurant menus to ensure cinema-going remains attractive in the age of Netflix, that same thought and consideration should be matched by the brand experiences that advertisers seek to deliver in cinema.

We need to make ads that match the well-crafted films on show. So a Christmas wish: when I take my son Frank to see Jumanji: The Next Level over the festive break, please, no Johnny Depp perfume ads.

Tom Bedwell is managing director of Above & Beyond

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