I see a lot of films, and each time I am at a cinema, I am reminded about how bad cinema advertising is in India. Sure its not that great in lots of countries, but it is really bad here.
Cinema advertising is, in some ways, an advertiser’s dream. You have a captive audience, who have nothing to do except look at your screen. You can segment the audience in so many ways. Geographic areas, tickets price levels, demographics based on film genre.
Plus, there are opportunities to brand almost anything within a cinema, to conduct interactive promotions in lobby areas, to distribute literature, or to capture viewer data. Not just in the cinema, viewers are also fairly captive while lining up for tickets, lining up for food, and waiting for the cinema doors to open.
What does this captive viewer get? The same ad played 2-3 times in a row, from an ancient print that is more scratches than image, different ads at different screen sizes, different volume levels, and a fairly limited range of advertised products, with a noticeable lack of national brands or current ad campaigns.
So what is needed?
Firstly, and most basically, is research. Most TV shows, newspapers, radio shows etc have regular viewers and established measurement systems. It is easy to estimate reach and frequency as part of a media plan. Cinema is much more vague. There is no way to know how successful a film will be in advance (for every Ghajini there is a Kites) or how often any one viewer attends the cinema. This needs research. So does follow up – tracking the success of particular ads.
The next step is a shared currency that allows cinema advertising to be included in media campaigns, allows measurement of results, and provides consistency across the success and failure of different films. Media planning should be precise and measurable; it should not be a gamble, with advertisers having to guess at which films will deliver audience numbers. That is not their job. Likewise, cinema owners need to be transparent with advertisers about ticket sales.
Next, some basic quality standards need to be developed. A 30 sec 35mm print is cheap (you might have to buy a roll of film, but it will make you a lot of 30 sec prints). There is no excuse for using a print for so long that it becomes unreadable. Sound levels need to be mixed to standardised levels, and need to be mixed to the cinema sound setup. When the audience is accustomed to cinema surround sound, ads with mono audio blasting out of the front speakers sounds terrible. TV ads should be transferred for wide screen. For companies that don’t have any existing TVCs, high quality digital motion graphic ads can be produced at cost effective rates. Even the simplest form – a static slide – can be nicely designed, and doesn’t need to look as if you have just printed it from Microsoft Word.
Yes, this is how the rest of the world does it.
The really big change that is needed is more fundamental. Pre-show advertising needs to become entertainment in itself. Screenvision in the US is currently developing a concept of a 20 minute ad block before each film. Top musicians will give short video interviews about their work and they will pick the songs that then play in the background while non-audio ads are shown. Entertaining short videos can be provided by various content developers, which can then be sponsored by brands,
There will also be a push towards mobile interactivity, with in-cinema sms codes (or barcodes for smartphones) that can deliver exclusive content. Viewers can vote or give other feedback on a video instantly through sms, possibly getting food discount coupons in exchange
The idea is that due to the level of engagement by viewers (i.e.they are basically guaranteed to watch the advertising), advertisers should respond with content that deserves the level of engagement. Playing bad content to people who have no other option but to watch and listen, is just insulting.
Non-screen advertising also needs a big kick. There are so many opportunities that are underused.
The sales process needs improvement. Through my work I often come in contact with cinema ad sales teams, and I am almost never inspired by what they have to say. They love to provide long lists of branding options, but no examples of who has used these before, or most importantly, evidence of effectiveness. If i am going to brand the popcorn cups, i want to know how many people are likely to remember my brand the next day, or will associate my brand with my category.
Pricing also needs review, based on what it delivers the advertiser. Quoting high prices for branding opportunities that are hardly ever utilised just reinforces the advertiser’s view that cinema advertising is poor value for money when compared to the thousands of other media channels that are now available.
I know that there are some companies that have already started down these paths (such as Qube Cinema Network in south India), and that digital cinema can provide a revolution in advertising. but there is no reason that things can’t change faster. Advertisers will spend their money anywhere that you can prove will reach their TG at a reasonable price.