Cinema advertising is poised to return to 90% of its 2019 levels this year as 16-34-year-olds return to the big screen in droves.
When the pandemic struck cinema, advertising was the most affected media channel, down 80% of its 2019 ad revenue. The Drum reported in April that ad spend was expected to fully recover in 2025, and since then James Bond’s No Time to Die and Spiderman: No Way Home landed, attracting 9.7 million and 9.2 million admissions respectively. The movies are now on course to become two of the biggest launches of all time.
Karen Stacey, chief executive officer of Digital Cinema Media, says the cinema advertising firm is now on course to reach 95% of its 2019 revenues in Q1 alone. “Almost every advertiser has returned,” she says, and it has grown its client roster with new business from emerging D2C brands including Kazoo and Deliveroo.
Simon Bevan, chief investment officer of media buyer Havas Media Group, says the reopening of cinemas has seen a demographic change. Spiderman alone has already been watched by one-third of all 16-34-year-olds. “If you look at Q2 2021 onwards it’s 16-34 year-on-year increase and there has been a drop off in the older audiences,” Bevan says. “That’s a really positive thing to draw in younger audiences when linear TV is challenged.”
Stacey says the cinema ad industry is shifting to a ratings-based system to talk in a language that is applicable to advertisers. When buying a cinema spot “you’ve got to compare it to peak TV – think of it like you are buying against Succession,” she says.
The pandemic has also seen the studios close the release window from 16 weeks to an average of 45 days. However, chief executive officer of distributor Pearl & Dean Kathryn Jacob disputes this is affecting ticket sales. She cites Audience Measurement and Evaluation (FAME) data that reveals that consumers are 44% happier when they are at the cinema, compared to 27%. According to Jacob early releases “do not impact the emotional value or the significance cinema has for audiences. Cinema is a planned event and ultimately a shared experience.”
Bevan adds that often advertisers are benefiting from online releases as the AVoD platforms offer a “dual market.” He offered Studio Canal as a distributor that is selling movies on to Sky, opening up a second ad spot after a cinema release.
Evolution of cinema advertising
As with other media channels, the pandemic has shaken up the format of cinema advertising and led to creative innovations. Bevan referrers to this as a “re-education” – his top predictions include longer-form ads, more upfront deals and ads catering toward the younger demo.
At DCM this has meant working on bespoke projects with clients, which the firm consolidated under its recently-assembled branded content division DCM Studios Presents. DCM Studios Presents issued a call out for six three-to-four-minute in-reel ad spots to create bespoke branded films for the cinema.
Stacey urges agencies to think of “compelling ways to tell stories. We have got a canvas which I would urge agencies to think how best to use us, challenge us to think about your challenges in the context of the slate we have coming up.”
Marketing a cinema post-pandemic
Odeon’s European marketing strategy is undergoing a revamp after appointing comms agency Elvis. Consumer research from Elvis revealed people were craving shared experiences, escapism, adventure and excitement.
Elvis strategy director Camilla Yates says: “Leveraging all of these elements in combination, with the reassurance that safety and hygiene are all taken care of, creates a compelling proposition for cinema brands.”
The mental health benefits of cinema including “aiding focus and creativity and combating isolation” were also utilized by Elvis. “Communicating the positive effect that a cinema experience can have creates a purposeful lens with which to encourage people back into theaters,” Yates says.
Yates also encourages cinema brands to leverage the “ritualized” experience of cinema snacks and drinks that “heightens the sense of occasion” and sets it apart from home viewing.