Let’s all go to the lobby: why cinema advertising is still king

The line for Brad Pitt’s new film was snaking around the corner of the block. The crowd, “mostly young men”, as the New York Times noted at the time, were clutching ticket stubs for Meet Joe Black, but they couldn’t give a damn who Joe Black was – they certainly weren’t there to meet him.

The opening weekend screenings of the November 1998 film also happened to be the first time that fans could see the trailer for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the first film in the saga for 15 long years.

After the trailer played – all two minutes and ten seconds of it – the crowds left the cinema.

Meet Joe Black netted a respectable US$15million in box office takings during its opening weekend, but a lot of those ticket holders didn’t even wait for the opening credits.

You cannot place too fine a point on this: thousands of people paid money to leave their houses, go to the cinema, and watch an ad. 

Sure, this was a quarter of a century ago, and times have changed. The internet was in its nascent stages back then, with smooth streaming video still the type of science fiction seen in a Star Wars film, and advertising certainly hadn’t cornered every avenue of our lives, digital and otherwise, as it has in 2023.

Which makes Kantar’s recent Media Reactions survey, which revealed that cinematic advertising is the Australian public’s preferred form of marketing, seem so surprising.

But should it be a surprise? After all, it’s hard to imagine a more captive, willing audience to advertise to.  

This is an audience that, through the long history of movie trailers, are primed to expect advertising to be served up before the movie. They are also in a state of anticipation, and are likely to transfer the positive feelings for the cinema across all aspects of the experience – pre-film advertising included.

It’s also highly localised, which removes the creep factor that comes from being data-mined and targeted based on desires you might not even be aware of yourself. It’s not in your pocket; it’s not using your first name. It wants you to go to the lobby, and that seems like a sensible idea – choc-top prices aside.

Those are the benefits to the customer. But what about to the advertiser?

After all, the same Kantar survey that showed that cinema is the Australian consumer’s most-preferred advertising funnel (globally, cinema advertising is second most-favoured, behind sponsored events), also shows that marketers don’t even place it in their top five – with online videos, sponsored events, and digital out-of-home being marketers’ top preferences.

That’s just ‘preferred’ funnels of advertising. In other words, self-reported. However, the Kantar survey also shows cinema ads are the best at capturing attention.

Matthew Dunn, Operations Manager for Cinema Advertising Australia, feels the benefits to advertisers are clear.

“Cinema advertising helps businesses of all sizes get noticed and connect to their local audience at relatively low costs compared to other advertising channels, and without the hassle and pressure of a big commitment,” he explains.

Much like a film release, which can hit as few or as many cinemas as makes fiscal sense, cinema advertising offers the same flexibility. And the all-important captured audience.

Dunn tells Mumbrella that cinema advertising has been shown to be eight times more effective than television when it comes to brand recall.

“Many of our clients are long-term with us,” Dunn notes.

“Because their message is delivered to a highly engaged and captivated local audience, right in the hub of their community.”


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