See Your Ad in Lights?

See Your Ad in Lights?

Advertisers and media buyers have worked tirelessly over the decades to find a way to garner eyes-on impressions from a non-distracted consumer.  Professionals in every phase of the advertising game will argue for and against different medias. Radio listeners in their car have few audio distractions, but they are driving!  Which is an equal argument against billboard advertising as well. Television audiences are likely channel surfing, watching multiple screens, or streaming/viewing on-demand which negates the on-screen ad experience.  Print medias are losing subscribers and readership numbers. Digital sites are cluttered. Pre-roll is skippable. We’ve heard them all!

Movie Theater AdvertisingBut there is one advertising form where consumers are in front of a GIANT screen. In the dark. With no other noise around them. They’re in a place where they went to escape and relax.  

This is movie theater advertising.  (Which falls in the outdoor/out-of-home advertising category).

Movie theater, or cinema, advertising can still produce viewers that are perusing their phones before the main attraction.  Or who are chatting with their seat mates. However, these factors are a vast contrast to the distractions of household living rooms or busy roads.  More than 3/4 of the US and Canadian population went to the movies at least once in 2017, contributing to ticket sales that raked in about $11 billion. Even though both numbers are down from the year prior, advertisers still see value in those numbers.

What is Movie Theater Advertising?

Movie theater advertising should not be confused with movie trailers – the “coming attractions” that immediately precede the feature film. Movie ads come before the trailers (sometimes interspersed), and they have been a presence in theaters since the first one opened in 1902. This means that your parents and maybe even your grandparents have fond memories of movie ads, too. Sometimes just for their comedic value.

In the early days, movie ad montages were put together quickly, sometimes with slides appearing upside down or with sketchy lines blocking an advertiser’s phone number. Some enterprising business owners tried to overcome this by engaging movie-goers with trivia questions that flashed on the screen. Some lobbied for better quality control. And others may have suffered in silence. Mostly local advertisers were the presence in the theaters, and that’s still true today. But digital technology has advanced so much that the production quality of the advertisements can rival the quality of the movie that the audience came to see. And some would argue that the consumers’ expectations have helped raise the bar.

Since those early years, Americans became accustomed to TV commercials – the length of cinema ads began to mirror the length that consumers were used to seeing in their living room. Today, movie theater advertisements usually run from between 15 and 30 seconds – long enough for a small business to make an impression.

What Are the Benefits of Movie Theater Advertising?

Movie AdvertisingMedia buyers these days have all been called on by cinema advertising salespeople.  If somehow you have not yet, you will soon. These individuals love to discuss how much Americans love movies and, perhaps even more intensely, the American movie-going experience.

These passionate folks have a point. Aside from newly released movies that you can see only in a theater, there is no doubt that watching a movie in a theater offers some very specific advantages over watching the same movie at home. A theater offers:

  • A wall-to-wall screen
  • Surround sound
  • Darkness
  • Emotion-filled peer viewing experience

Even a cynical small business owner would be hard-pressed to disagree with these realities. This list doesn’t speak for the ads themselves though, just the experience.

At this point, salespeople might transition to the fact that the advantages of a movie theater and the advantages of movie theater advertising are intrinsically linked. The relationship is similar to that of newspapers and magazines, in that people gravitate to these print medias because they can hold the paper in their hands, thumbing through the pages. Readers enjoy the experience that these medias provide.

One must also consider the other distinctive advantages of movie theater advertising:

  • A movie theater supplies that highly-coveted captive audience. Patrons paid for their ticket and they want to be there. The videos and images on the screen don’t have to compete with society’s main distraction: cell phones. Most theaters ask customers to turn off their phones before the film’s ads even begin to roll.
  • A movie theater is one of the “last frontiers” in terms of offering an advertiser an uncluttered media environment to present their message. Sitting in a movie theater may be one of the few times during the week when people are not working on a computer while looking at their phone and simultaneously viewing TV playing in the background. Even consumers who have grown impatient with commercials cannot fast-forward over movie theater ads either.
  • “Silence is golden” in movie theaters, so noise tends to halt when the house lights go down and the ads start to roll. Talking over a commercial in a movie theater happens, but it’s not the same as the home experience.
  • A movie theater offers small-business owners a targeted demographic group.  Geo-targeting is nearly inevitable (meaning people who live within a 10-mile radius of the theater). One can narrow the demographic group even further by realizing that most moviegoers are aged 16-44.
  • Movie theaters also offer the ability to conduct crossover marketing or promotional activities. For example, you can hand out product samples or keepsakes in the lobby before the movie begins. Or you can say goodbye to movie-goers as they exit, handing them discounts or coupons for your business.

Do People Actually Pay Attention to Movie Theater Ads?

So what’s the verdict?  Do these ads work? And why wouldn’t the theaters be oversold if they were the end-all-be-all of the advertising world?  With so many other venues competing for advertising dollars, it seems all are a gamble. Advertising provides no guarantees, but an assurance that you can expect some return on investment (ROI) from movie theater advertising would help the media planners and advertisers feel better about an investment.

Researchers know that asking people if they watched movie theater ads is similar to asking people if they take the time to read the newspaper they have delivered every day. Since the consumer is paying for the product, they often feel compelled to say that yes indeed, they were captivated by the messaging. The results of any research study should be read with a grain of salt – which media buyers are famous for weeding through nonsense. One industry report, “The Bigger Picture,” is widely quoted. Conducted by Hall & Partners for Digital Cinema Media, it found that:

  • “… cinema is working in a very different way to any other media, with ads watched in the cinema being processed by the brain more consciously, proving a much more powerful and emotionally engaging medium for brands.”

Marketing Director Zoe Jones said they arrived at this conclusion because:

  • “Cinema advertising is eight times more effective at making your brand stand out from the crowd than television. If you show people an unbranded still from an ad, three times as many cinemagoers will actually recall which brand it is for,  when compared with TV viewers. Cinema audiences are four times more likely to be emotionally engaged than a television audience, and those exposed to ads in the cinema are twice as likely to recall a brand compared to TV.”

Jones also said: “You still can’t beat the big screen for sheer impact and scale.”

How Much Will Movie Theater Advertising Cost?

Media planners and buyers typically will compile a detailed analysis of how much it costs to advertise in all mediums that are matched to the target audience. A comparison with movie theater advertising rates will be more straightforward with these numbers in hand.

Like other forms of advertising, movie theater advertising rates vary based on:

  • The duration of the ad: 15, 30 or 60 seconds.
  • The number of theaters the ad will appear in.
  • The number of screens within those theaters.
  • The length of the advertising campaign.
  • The time of year.

Getting in contact with a representative from a movie theater advertising company will provide interested companies with the best ballpark rates for budget estimating as well as possible impressions delivered.

What Is the Most Effective Type of Movie Theater Advertising?

This form of advertising may strike buyers as “out of the box” and so different from more conventional advertising methods, that creative teams may be tempted to create an ad that is equally outside of the norm. This would actually violate one of the main “rules” of advertising: be true to your brand and your image. Consistency is key.  If you want to create an effective movie theater ad, create one that is symmetrical with your other advertising initiatives. Symmetry will help build brand awareness among new customers, and still solidifying your image with consumers who already know the product. And if you help further that brand awareness, maybe they’ll notice that billboard when they’re driving down the highway next time, too.


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