News Exchange: Cinema is marketing's new superhero channel

News Exchange: Cinema is marketing's new superhero channel

As Avengers: Endgame surpasses Avatar to become the highest-grossing film of all time, cinema is set to overtake digital and become the fastest-growing ad channel. What could brands possibly see in a fusty old medium that can only offer a well-defined, attentive audience in a safe, secluded space?

It took nearly a decade, but Avatar’s global box-office record has been broken. James Cameron’s sci-fi epic set the bar at $2.79bn after it was released in 2009. Late last month, Avengers: Endgame had taken more than $2.9bn. Not bad for the fourth film in the Avengers series and the 22nd in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Some have questioned the (lack of) artistic ambition in such safety-first franchising, but the results are undeniable. The people of the UK made 177m trips to the cinema in 2018 – the most since 1970, according to the UK Cinema Association. On the other side of the Atlantic, cinema attendance was up more than 7% to 1.3bn tickets sold, defying the naysayers who thought streaming services and high-quality TV were about to kill the big screen.

Quiet please

“When people watch Netflix, there’s a high chance they are also on their phones, doing multiple other things at the same time,” says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler. In contrast, “The cinema is an occasion. Visually and mentally it’s a quiet space. There are no phones and no noise, so the impact of a trailer can be much bigger than an ad on TV.” Remember that Disney, which is about to launch a streaming service, has also just bought film studio 20th Century Fox. It clearly still believes in the magic of the movies – the $20bn-plus grossed by its Marvel Studios subsidiary might have something to do with that.

The wider experience is important too, says CIM’s Adam Pyle. “Groundbreakers like Secret Cinema have turned a trip to the movies into a passion for millennials, who have come to expect a high-quality night out.” Heritage chains have responded, following the lead of smaller groups like Everyman, which moved cinemas out of retail parks and into town centres, while offering better food and drinks, and homely levels of comfort. “The tech is great too, so home itself simply can’t compete,” says Butler.

Streaming services, of course, rely on subscriptions rather than advertising, so brand opportunities are rarer than on old-fashioned TV channels (hence, perhaps the overstuffing of Stranger Things). Cinema advertising agency DCM has skin in the game, but the stat it uses to sell ad space is still eye-catching: 95% of ad copy shown in cinemas is also shown on TV, but 85% of cinemagoers think the average cinema ad is unique. For CIM’s Ally Lee-Boone, “This confirms the cinema is a place where consumers are receptive – that’s rare in an age of brand bombardment.”

Digital deficiencies

There is, of course, another reason why cinema has taken the crown of fastest-growing global ad sector away from the internet for the first time in two decades. The internet is struggling. Beset by brand safety issues and questions about who actually engages with digital ads, next year’s predicted growth of 10% is its lowest since 2001. It will still be the biggest ad channel but, in an experience economy, the competition is getting stiffer.

According to research by global media agency group Zenith, cinema should enjoy 12% growth. A direct contrast between the two channels is illuminating. While big online platforms wrestle with fake news, extremist content and data appropriators like Cambridge Analytica, cinema chains offer a carefully curated environment for advertisers. While the platforms struggle to prove they have a real-life audience among the bots, cinemas know all about their affluent, desirable customers. “They offer close targeting,” says Butler. “They are persona driven – they have a name for every different type of cinema-goer and can sort them demographically and according to emotional wants and preferences.”

These are valuable assets for cinema to hold and they are likely to become more desirable. “The outside world is only going to get noisier,” says Butler. “Escapism is rife right now – from the noise but also from the news. That doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.” Cinema has traditionally done well as a refuge from difficult realities – notably peaking in admissions just after World War 2 – and it is now set for success once again. For brands, that means the curtain is about to be pulled back on a golden age for silver-screen advertising.


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Tobias Gourlay Journalist
Gemma Butler Director of Marketing CIM
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