Big-screen buy-in: At Cineplex Media and NCM Networks, more play and turbo speed boost cinema advertising’s appeal

April 21, 2014

By Andreas Fuchs

As evidenced by our section lead-in conversation with the head of the Cinema Advertising Council, it has been another banner year for advertising on and around the big screen. In addition to expert contributions from NCM Cinema Networks, Spotlight Cinema Network and Screenvision (alternative content) on subsequent pages, this article takes a look at several key drivers of the cinema advertising business—both from a technology perspective and in terms of brand support. This article also features some memorable campaigns that use our medium effectively by playing on and with cinema conventions.

There is even neuroscientific backup available now—the study of how people react to stimuli—to explain why cinema ads are so effective. “The mood people are in at the time as well as an ad’s sensory impact can also boost effectiveness,” reported about findings by Peter Steidl of consultancy Neurothinking. “That’s one reason why marketers should think of multiplexes as places to experience well-made commercials, as well as the latest films.” Another is the role that sensory elements at the movies play in reinforcing key messages “as long as people have already seen it once in full,” Steidl observes. “The heightened visual and audio intensity that a cinema provides can be especially effective in making an ad or brand message easier to remember.”

Add play to that and marketers have a winning combination, Canada’s Cineplex Media has learned. “2013 was another strong year for cinema advertising” in Canada, says Mike Langdon, director of communications at Cineplex Entertainment. Revenues at the company’s Cineplex Media division increased CAN$15.9 million year over year (US$14.37 mil.) “by securing new clients, including Apple, HTC, Interac, Toys‘R’Us, Urban Planet, Mr. Clean and many others; and also through the successful integration of advertising opportunities across Cineplex properties.”

That very connectedness of in-theatre properties, “such as fully digital preshow, lobby show, and showtime advertising,” along with the publication of Cineplex Magazine/Le magazine Cineplex, he says about the latter’s monthly readership of 3.3 million through physical delivery as well as online distribution, helps marketers recognize “the power of cinema advertising,” as evidenced throughout this special section of Film Journal International.

Langdon feels “the ability to engage customers at each stage of what we call the consumer pathway[is] one of the really exciting things about Cineplex Media’s offering… The combination of these media properties provides advertisers with an opportunity to create integrated campaigns to message our guests at numerous touch points.” That package to advertisers and agencies covers the stages of “Brand Introduction” (via, mobile, and digital signage in the cinema lobby), “Relationship Building” (Cineplex Magazine, TimePlay, preshow) and “Brand Hero” (showtime), followed by “Brand Reminder” (lobby signage again) and “Product Sampling” offers upon exiting the cinema. “Cineplex theatres also provide opportunities for special media placement, including window clings, standees and banners, while the website and mobile app allow advertisers to engage with Cineplex guests online and on-the-go.”

Entering the auditoriums at Cineplex includes plenty of engagement as well. In fact, “interactivity with the big screen has proven one of the most exciting opportunities,” Langdon has observed, and “will remain an important aspect of our cinema advertising strategy in the years ahead.” To that end, Cineplex and TimePlay just announced the expansion of their multi-player platform into 725 of its total 1,632 auditoriums and across all ten provinces. After downloading the free TimePlay app on their smartphones and tablets (more than 1.5 million have already done so and played more than four million games since January 2012), moviegoers can interact in real time with content on the big screen. They are competing for prizes and for special offers from both Cineplex and its advertisers, such as popcorn and drinks, SCENE loyalty program points, or partner offers delivered directly to their devices.

TimePlay and Cineplex began testing interactive games as part of the preshow in 2011, with an initial expansion to 231 auditoriums in late 2012. Last year alone, Langdon relays to FJI, Cineplex TimePlay regularly saw 30% to 50% of players opting in to advertisers’ opportunities. Prize offers from Mazda and Pizza Pizza yielded close to 9,000 test drives and a nearly 50% redemption rate on the offer of a free medium pizza. “Recent studies show TimePlay scores an amazing 93% for advertising awareness and 94% for correct brand association—significantly outperforming the same metrics for television advertising.”

Not surprisingly, given those and similarly encouraging statistics, cinema advertising companies are positioning themselves “to compete against TV and digital video.” Cliff Marks, president of sales and marketing with NCM Media Networks, calls this “the biggest shift” in how cinema advertising has developed over the past year. “Both NCM Media Networks and Screenvision now host upfronts—with our larger cinema network presenting with the other major national networks during broadcast week on May 14.” With some 19,800 screens at more than 1,500 locations, “we are comparing ourselves favorably to premium prime-time TV and live sports.”

As movie theatres already are, in fact, the number-one network on weekends, Marks recently likened cinema to “must-see” programming and “appointment viewing” on television. While live TV events like the Super Bowl, the Grammys and the Oscars “still generate the kind of water-cooler talk and shared experience that used to be associated with all TV, the movies are the king of the ultimate ‘shared experience’ and the ‘original social media,’” Marks’ opined for media ecologist “When it comes to a true communal experience…the live experiential and group social aspects of going to the movie theatre itself are what really makes the difference to audiences.” Citing research from the 2013 “Nielsen NRG American Moviegoing Report,” Marks wrote that “the big-theatre experience and the rituals we associate with it are the top reasons for seeing a movie at the theatre.”

With equal, if not higher, numbers and advertising recall and engagement to outperform virtually any TV spot, NCM has begun to address one of the platform’s drawbacks by giving cinema advertising a turbo boost. “Early feedback on NCM’s Turbo project from the field has been great,” Marks confirms about the new initiative that has been reducing turnaround times for inclusion in the “FirstLook” preshow to 72 hours in comparison to the current standard 10 to 20 days. “Agencies and clients that our regional team is working with are very excited about the opportunity to get onscreen so quickly,” he tells FJI. “It opens up a whole new business for cinema that was previously only possible for TV or radio.” Turbo enables auto dealerships, retailers and restaurants to run weekly targeted promos, special offers and sales on the big screen. Another one of his examples is that mortgage companies will be able to advertise current rates. “And we are now able to easily accommodate those last-minute buys that come about when additional funds are allocated to a project. To say that the response has been overwhelmingly positive is an understatement. We think this is something that could really be a game-changer for NCM and the cinema medium.”

Marks goes on to supply the reason as well. “We are now not only America’s number-one network on weekends, but we are also the only cinema network with a media digital delivery system that can turn a brand’s spot around just like the other national networks in the TV world. I think that this once again shows our clients that NCM is always striving to make it easier for them to integrate cinema seamlessly into any video media buy and reach our key cinema audiences.”

NCM’s clients are responding to both of these offerings. Marks provides one speedy example: a regional trucking company that needed to hire 50 drivers before the end of February. “They had an ad created in three days, and without Turbo they would not have been able to use cinema to meet their business goal.” Nationally, it’s more about the turbo impact than the boost. Apple made its cinema debut last year, “taking on its competitors like Samsung and Microsoft who have long used the power of the big screen to reach highly engaged movie audiences.”

Another new brand to cinema in 2013 was, “which ran several campaigns including a Halloween campaign in our FirstLook pre-show, with integrated online/mobile and in-theatre lobby elements, including mock-but-inspired posters for seven supposedly haunted hotels,” Marks reviews (“Stay if you dare.”). In time for the holidays, Jeep Cherokee went all out for the real thing with Fox and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. American Girl, too, used the idea of movies and the movie theatre to drive awareness for its latest TV and direct-to-video movie, Saige Paints the Sky. The package not only included onscreen and in-lobby spots but also standees announcing special screening events for girls and their dolls.

Last but not least, advertisers are also aligning with cinema to protect the experience that they are using for maximum impact. Geico and M&Ms signed on as NCM’s latest courtesy partners, creating new “silence your cellphone” spots specifically for the movie theatre environment. The latter included the first time that all six candy characters have appeared in a single spot. (To see how the Geico camel and gecko feel, click here and here; to see why cellphones ruin movies go here.)

Trade publication Adweek enthused that “Geico’s Camel Is Back, and Obsessed With a Different Day” and lauded the way in which “M&M’s Spoof Action Movies in Cinema Plea to Silence Your Cellphone.” “Sugar-coating the theme in such fashion is pretty sweet,” AdFreak David Gianatasio opined before entering into the territory of this very trade journal. “The approach actually makes me want to see the M&M’s cast in a feature for real. They’re always hanging around movie theatres anyway, usually in the snack case. And judging by the ‘trailer,’ the Blue M&M could out-act Vin Diesel any day of the week (though an M&M’s wrapper could probably do that, come to think of it).”

As long as either one is seen on the cinema screen, we might add.