Adland’s expectations are out of step with the reality of cinema

Between the expectations of cinema advertising and the viewing experience of the movie theatre, Mumbrella's Darren Wells argues that reality sets a slightly different scene.

Cinemas across the country are reopening following the extended run of COVID 2: Electric Boogaloo (interesting premise, but it dragged in the middle). Naturally, adland is also keen to see those curtains rise, bringing with it the opportunity to get on those seven-metre-tall screens for theatres of captive eyeballs.

But there’s an audience that has the potential to reveal some stark findings about the true value of cinema advertising, one the industry is neglecting to consider: itself.

Like movies themselves, an advertisement in a packed house is seen as the ultimate viewing experience. Ad spend is up year-on-year, seemingly speaking to its reputation as the best advertising seat in the house. And why wouldn’t it? The massive screen, the booming sound, the audience of hundreds planted front and centre before <youradhere.mp4>. Professor Karen Nelson-Field, CEO and founder of Amplified Intelligence, says it amounts to a unique advertising experience: “…an unskippable environment free from distractions where its audiences even put away their phones to devote 120 minutes of their precious attention to watch.” Short of A Clockwork Orange’s Ludovico technique, it’s as pure a viewing experience as it comes.

Except, when taken outside of advertising’s vacuum and applied to the real world, it’s not.

Put it this way: ever rushed to a movie? Of course you have, anyone who’s anyone has looked at their watch and realised there’s no way they’re going to make it by 11:10am, silently cursing whatever delay has turned that well-planned timetable into a house of lies. Anyone who’s anyone has, at some point, run the numbers of that listed start time to figure out how much time they really have before the movie begins. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “Ten minutes of ads, maybe ten minutes of trailers, if we’re lucky the studio logos and opening credits will give us another couple of minutes… unless Kevin has to have another wee, I think we’ll be okay.”

At a consumer level, cinema advertising is considered expendable. It’s the bubble wrap around the true item of value. Unless we’re talking embedded marketing, or product placement, those eyeballs in cinemas are probably looking elsewhere – count the number of lit smartphone screens you see next time you’re waiting for the movie to start.

The conversation then turns to the cinema experience itself, from the upholstered chairs to the smell of the popcorn. It was an aspect examined by Involved Media’s head of strategy and planning, Dan Hojnik – “Hell, I really did miss it,” he says of his first post-COVID trek. But to yearn for the experience of eating quasi-overpriced snacks while watching a movie is to fawn over shopping centres for their parking fees – entirely the wrong thing.

“But it’s the massive screen, stupid” is the go-to argument; the rebuttal that watching a movie in your own home cannot possibly replace the cinema experience. Yet it’s becoming increasingly obsolete – go to a hi-fi store and just try finding a modest screen amid the rows of 72” 4K OLED panels. The way modern TVs are built, a big-screen experience is approaching the default in Australia’s lounge rooms. And the sound? Anyone who struggled through the muffled dialogue of Tenet knows not even a 12.1 surround setup is a beneficial part of this supposed ‘cinematic experience’.

“Ringing the death knell is dangerous rhetoric,” Hojnik advised in his original piece. To that much, I agree. Cinemas won’t die. They will evolve. For a certain audience they will endure, but that audience may not be the audience as it exists today. Just as the rivers of gold of print newspapers have run dry, cinemas won’t always be regarded as the primary movie viewing experience.

Torrents of digital ink has been spent analysing the home streaming responses of various studios, and COVID’s role in accelerating media’s move to digital streaming. Punters have now had the taste of convenience, and that genie is out of the bottle. The sound at your preferred volume. Subtitles to cater to everyone in the room. The luxury to pause a movie. (Go on Kevin, have another wee.) Rushing to make it for a movie’s start time is a panic of the past.

Adland: we’re all human. People have lives outside of the focus groups and flow charts and eye tracking experiments. Ads are the first thing cinema goers skip and the last thing they think about. You know this. You live this. And if you’ve ever offloaded your CD collection in favour of Spotify music streaming, you know that convenience will win the day, every day.

Darren Wells is the senior content journalist at Mumbrella.


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